First-year college students often take some version of a success course designed to ease their transition into campus experiences.
At Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the freshman success course used to be a series of basic how-to lessons on things like using the library. But when the college decided to move to a guided pathways model, it seized the opportunity for a revolutionary update to the one class that nearly all incoming students take.
The redesigned curriculum had a big mandate. It needed to apply to a more diverse cross-section of the student body, foster an entrepreneurial mindset, unify the students within each of the college’s eight Pathways, and give students a sense of individual identity and self-efficacy.
Redesigning Toward a New Mindset
Laramie County Community College handed the assignment for writing the Strategies for Success curriculum over to a team led by Jill Koslosky, Dean of the School of Business, Agriculture, and Technical Studies.
“We used to spoon-feed students the content,” Koslosky said. “We would tell them, ‘Here’s where to go and what to do.’” But those basic-level lessons didn’t foster the critical thinking skills that are so vital to long-term career success. They also didn’t resonate with non-traditional students who were entering college with a diversity of life experiences.
After learning about the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative’s Ice House model from Marketing and Entrepreneurship Instructor Minden Fox, the team chose to incorporate critical elements of the ELI program into the Strategies for Success curriculum.
Redefining entrepreneurship in a way that everyone can embrace—as the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others—is at the heart of the Ice House model. That strongly resonated with Koslosky and the curriculum team because they could apply it to students of any age, demographic group, or major.
Fox had already seen how much the Ice House model benefitted students in her introduction to entrepreneurship course after she started using it in 2018. “It’s almost more emotional for the non-traditional students because so many of the lessons resonate with them,” Fox said. “Many didn’t have a support system their first time around, and that’s why they didn’t complete college. Now they’ve had a major life change, or someone in their life is pushing them to pursue this, and that makes a big difference in their success.”
Strategies for Success
The facilitators contextualize the Strategies for Success course within each Pathway and align the activities with students’ majors. For example, one of the first assignments is to go out and talk to someone in their industry who lives where the student wants to live. Although these first-year students are very new to the professional world and often need support polishing their interview skills, Koslosky said the benefits are enormous. “We’ve had students come back with internships and job opportunities off of that interview,” she said.
The courses run in spring and fall semesters, taught by Pathway coordinators. These coordinators’ job descriptions also include one-on-one interaction with students, building communities of interest within their field, and establishing or growing partnerships with off-campus entities. These off-campus groups can support students in various ways as they progress toward their certificates or degrees.
Results from the Entrepreneurial Approach
Business and Accounting Pathway Coordinator Carole Boughton is a 23-year veteran of higher education who sees the results of the new approach at every level. She has taught Strategies for Success each semester since it launched in the fall of 2020.
The entrepreneurial mindset helps individual students recognize every problem as an opportunity, both personally and on the career side. “They get to see what it looks like to impact change,” Boughton said.
Some students realize that the degree path they initially chose isn’t right for them. “That’s success too,” Boughton explained. “It helps them really find their life’s passion and what it is they want to do.”
At the college level, the administration is open to hearing students’ ideas—and implementing them. Examples range from adding small snack bars in the dorms to including students on the textbook selection committee.
Faculty and staff are also incorporating the entrepreneurial mindset into their work. For example, the cafeteria can barely keep up with requests for catering gigs after improving the quality of its food. This was an initiative led by its own staff, with the blessing of the new director.
Fox also notices the impact of Strategies for Success in her entrepreneurship courses. “I can see bits and pieces of the lessons we’re trying to get across,” she said. For some students, her class is their second exposure to the Ice House model and book. Their understanding of the concepts is clearly growing.
That sign of academic and personal growth is exciting—and precisely what the college was trying to accomplish. “Your lens changes as you go through college,” Boughton said. “At first, as a freshman, it’s about lessons and grades. Later it’s about incorporating life experiences with new perspectives.”
By speeding up that process, Laramie County Community College is putting students on a fast track to self-empowerment. They are building the skills they will need to achieve it, from collaboration to research. As Boughton tells her students, “Don’t just state your opinion. Do your research, so you have a solution to present.”
Planning for the future
Strategies for Success has been a problem-solving tool for the college in everything from its use of technology to push out courses to the ways in which instructors build connections across disciplines and out into the wider Cheyenne community. “There’s a fair amount of learning that’s come from this curriculum,” Koslosky said.
The college is still working on ways to measure specific outcomes—for example, how the course establishes a sense of identity within students. “It’s hard to demonstrate that on a metric,” Koslosky said. But there is already a wealth of qualitative data from individual students, faculty, and staff.
Successful completion of Strategies for Success itself isn’t the end goal. Instead, the course just sets the stage, introducing students to an entrepreneurial mindset. It also serves as a springboard to the tools and resources that can help them throughout their college journey. For instance, in the communities of interest within their Pathway. In that way, the course is still very similar to other first-year student success courses.
Students will be in a synthesis and application phase throughout their time at the college. Gradually their knowledge will come together, in many cases coalescing around an online portfolio of problems and solutions they started during Strategies for Success.
That is what truly differentiates it from other programs, said Janet Webb, Assistant Dean, Academic Affairs. “This course ties into the essential student experiences of collaboration, immersion, synthesis, and exploration. No one else in Wyoming is doing that at the community college level.”