A Wyoming College Redesigns the Student Success Experience to Focus on Mindset
Location: Cheyenne, Wyoming
Number of employees: 362
Number of full-time students: 2,827
Total number of students enrolled on campus: 5,307
Median student age: 28
Participants in Strategies for Success courses since fall of 2020: 700
The region around Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyoming, is a microcosm of the challenges facing many parts of the U.S. Even before the pandemic, boom-and-bust economic cycles affected some of its leading industries, including the energy and agriculture sectors. Leaders seeking to diversify realized that traditional entrepreneurship education, which focuses on attracting infusions of capital, wasn’t the solution they needed. The college did well at preparing its students for employment in everything from health sciences to automotive technology. Still, LCCC’s top administrators wanted to do more. They wanted to instill an entrepreneurial mindset that graduates could apply to their fields throughout their entire lives.
In 2019, Laramie County Community College embarked on a move toward a guided pathways model. It created a list of nine must-haves, one of which was a trio of essential student experiences. These experiences are collaboration, immersion, synthesis, and application. To help achieve those experiences, the college set a goal of reworking its freshman success course to align across all eight academic Pathways—and it handed the assignment over to a team led by Dr. 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 didn’t resonate with non-traditional students who were entering college with a diversity of life experiences.
The team eventually distilled its mission to answer a key question: “Rather than creating a course that focuses on the lowest common denominator, how do we flip the script and teach that regardless of your age or where you are in your life, mindset matters?” Koslosky recalled.
“When we started the redesign, we had no idea what it would look like,” added Janet Webb, Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs, who ensures consistency across the Pathways. Taking an open-ended approach allowed the team to explore many options as it worked to find the right solution for the student body and faculty.
As LCCC’s team dug in, one of the business department instructors asked for 15 minutes of their time to present an idea. That presentation—from Marketing and Entrepreneurship Instructor Minden Fox—proved to be pivotal.
Fox explained that ever since she incorporated the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative’s Ice House model into her introductory entrepreneurship course in the spring of 2019, her students had praised the book and gravitated toward the eight life lessons it contains. She suggested the team take a look.
“We read it, and we flipped from what we had been working on to instead figuring out how the ELI program could be part of the mix,” Koslosky recalled. The team spent a year writing the new Strategies for Success curriculum, nicknamed STRT 1000, reframing it from a basic introduction to campus resources into a rich immersion in problem-solving—while still ensuring the course’s activities were relevant for all eight Pathways.
Each part of the course description is intentional: “Students develop meaningful relationships with college employees and Pathway professionals while developing a mindset for success throughout life. Through collaboration, problem-solving, exploration, and action, students will identify transferable skills, develop a network of support and career mentors, and identify strategies to guide continued growth and persistence throughout their lives.”
The college contextualizes Strategies for Success within each Pathway, and the activities align with students’ majors. Each course also provides some of the essential student experiences required for graduation. For example, the work on group projects and presentations counts toward collaboration; the problem-solving assignments require students to immerse themselves in issues—first on campus and later within their field—and propose solutions.
Each Pathway has a coordinator who teaches the Strategies for Success course and works one on one with students. The Pathway coordinators also build communities of interest within the college. They establish or strengthen off-campus partnerships with individuals and organizations who can support their students in everything from interviews to internships.
Webb manages the Strategies for Success curriculum. She also acknowledges that the rollout, which started in the fall of 2020, was not without its ups and downs. The most immediate challenge was adapting an all-new course taught by all-new instructors to an online format due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other challenges took a little more time to emerge. Some incoming students had never had a teacher ask them to identify a problem, do the research, and develop an original solution. “We have to push to get students to wrap their heads around this format of thinking right at the beginning of the class,” Koslosky said.
Assigning students to focus on issues within the institution initially caused discomfort among some staff and faculty. Webb said the college made substantial efforts to reach out. They did this before and during the new Strategies for Success curriculum rollout to generate buy-in across campus. One initiative, a lunchtime book club to discuss “Who Owns the Ice House? Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur,” led to insights and discussions that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Kari Brown-Herbst paid for the lunches herself. This made it clear the new curriculum had the college’s full backing.
“The people you would never expect to connect with the information were the ones who blew us out of the water the most,” Fox said. “Not just instructors, but coaches, librarians, and administrators brought amazing ideas. As a result of the things we did, we’re seeing programs doing really cool, innovative things because they’ve been given more freedom. The administration sees that in order to become an entrepreneurial campus, you have to give people some wiggle room.”
New Ways Forward
Under ELI’s definition, entrepreneurship is not specifically about business. Rather, it’s the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others. As students and staff internalize this definition and start to act on it, sometimes the results do lead to better business practices in the service of students. Some examples:
- The cafeteria can barely keep up with requests for catering. This is after the new director allowed his team to explore hand-made pizza crust and other improvements to the quality of food on campus.
- Student-athletes have more options for high-quality snacks—paid for on their meal plans. This is after the college added small snack bars to its dorms. They’ve been so successful that the college is considering opening more across campus. Now, all students can get nutritious foods more easily.
- The college added students to its textbook selection committee so their perspectives will be included in future decisions.
Business and Accounting Pathway Coordinator Carole Boughton notices other changes too. These include how students approach clubs, how the college creates course schedules, and how organizations plan events. Some students have taken the problem-solving approach personally. For instance, one who used it to make the decision to move out of his parents’ home and accept a promotion at work. Others have changed Pathways entirely after exploring other options in Strategies for Success.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:
“The takeaways for many students are, ‘I can do this. I am capable. I am stronger than I thought I was,’” Boughton said.
When students investigate a problem and propose solutions that are already in place, Boughton said they often feel they’ve failed to do thorough research. She’s quick to reassure them that it signifies an opportunity for the college to communicate more effectively; it’s not the students’ job to know everything. Likewise, the greater Cheyenne community has benefitted from knowing which services and supports aren’t publicized well enough on campus.
Koslosky said the college would continue to collect data on outcomes. They can also tweak the Strategies for Success curriculum to smooth out all the wrinkles.
“This doesn’t look like anyone else’s freshman success class—and we’re OK with that,” Koslosky said. “We like being innovative in how we work with students.”