Discovery on Demand: Scaling 21st Century Skills Development

Concurrent Session 4

Brief Abstract

This conversation will focus on ideation and strategies for implementation of a scaleable online program to address critical technical and soft-skills gaps among University of Arizona undergraduate students. What could a successful a la carte, personalized, flexible and easily accessible curricular program look like? How can we leverage current resources and ensure effective collaboration among our academic partners? 


Annie Kurtin joined the Student Engagement & Career Development department at the University of Arizona in 2017. As Associate Director, Student Engagement, Annie oversees the 100% Engagement Initiative - a campus-wide program that creates and connects undergraduates with opportunities for experiential learning, both within and beyond the classroom. In addition to 100% Engagement, Annie works across campus with academic partners to develop innovative skill-building programs to provide students with both hands-on technical and soft-skills applications. Prior to joining this Student Affairs unit, Annie was a Lecturer in the School of Architecture at the University of Arizona where she coordinated and developed curriculum for the First-Year Design Studio. In addition to teaching design studios, Annie also taught History/Theory and Design Communications courses, and served on both the College and School curriculum committees. Annie has a Masters in Architecture from Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and a Masters in Critical Theory and Visual Culture from Goldsmiths College, University of London.

Extended Abstract

Our university students need flexible, customized 21st century skills development throughout their academic careers in order to demonstrate and achieve the following learning objectives: to develop both 'soft' and technical skills they and employers value; to reflect on their applied skills, values and experiences and use these insights to create meaningful and actionable career plans; and to gain experience solving unscripted problems and creating change in their communities.  

To address this campus-wide need, Student Engagement and Career Development - a department within the University of Arizona Student Affairs division, is in the early stages of developing a scaleable non-credit program structured around specific technical and 21st century skill-building applications. Our goal is to meet students where they are - often they do not know which skills they need or how to articulate which skills they already have. Moreover, students must be given meaningful opportunities to apply their knowledge and reflect on those applications in an authentic way. This articulation helps them process the transformation of transferable skills, and allows them to connect more effectively with employers or shine in graduate school applications.

Student Engagement and Career Development's vision for a new service model includes personalized, customized, flexible a la carte options for students as they navigate their academic and professional careers. These programs could incorporate aspects of gaming to further incentivize continued participation. In addition to digital badging, these programs could tap into existing Student Affairs support resources such as career coaching, etiquette dinners, design thinking challenges and employer externships.

Institutions of higher education have a responsibility - as a return on investment - to best prepare their student populations to live lives of great purpose, aligned with their values, talents and skill sets. Particularly for students in degree programs that do not have the resources or capacity for in-house career preparation, this initiative aims to address those systemic gaps through easily accessible, ‘plug-and-play’ workshops that effectively and efficiently assist students with defining and succeeding in their professional goals.

In order to achieve our goal for launching this initiative, our team is utilizing the design thinking process to more effectively gather and synthesize stakeholder insights, ideate solutions and test our assumptions, prototype potential programs, and further refine before we bring this to market. I am interested in using this opportunity at the OLC Innovate Conference to leverage the insights, expertise and experiences of the session attendees to think through the problem statement, identify effective strategies for empathising and ideating, and testing new models of technology, curriculum design, and cross-disciplinary implementation.