Ball State University is tapping into its alumni as a resource to make connections between the classroom and the world into which students will graduate.
Through the Career Center’s Skills Infusion Program, faculty members are paired with alumni employers to weave workplace competencies into learning outcomes in their syllabi. Launched in Spring 2018, the program has a presence in the Honors College, the College of Sciences and Humanities, the Miller College of Business, and the R. Wayne Estopinal College of Architecture and Planning. As the College of Communication, Information, and Media updates master syllabi, it is working with the Career Center to incorporate workplace competencies — skills transferable across professions. The University is moving to include all of colleges in the program this academic year, McAtee said.
With funding from the Lilly Endowment, the Skills Infusion Program helps students explain how their Ball State education provides those competencies, said Jim McAtee, assistant vice president and executive director for career and professional development.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers has created a list of skills employers want: critical thinking and problem solving, oral and written communications, teamwork and collaboration, fluency in digital technologies, work ethic and professionalism, leadership, career management, and global/intercultural fluency.
What robots cannot be
“Employers tell us they need college graduates who have skills beyond knowing facts and figures and how to use the latest equipment and technology,” McAtee said. “We’re teaching our students to be what robots cannot be.”
Associate Teaching Professor of Honors Humanities Timothy Berg said the program has influenced how he thinks about his classroom role.
Berg was teamed with Craig Farnsworth, ’86, who spent 25 years as a landscape architect in Chicago. Farnsworth, now a Ball State Visiting Roan Distinguished Professor of Landscape Architecture, and Berg were among several faculty-alumni teams who have participated.
“I teach humanities and arts courses where we focus on big ideas and the big questions of being human,” said Berg. “I knew the value of preparing students for careers, of course, but it was not something I made an overt goal in my courses. My attitude was that what we do in those courses is vitally important to living a good life, but I kind of took it for granted that students would put what we’re learning to use in their working lives.
“The Skills Infusion Program helped me deepen my understanding and appreciation for what I do and why. This focus on career readiness fits perfectly into my course themes of understanding the human condition and how to live the best life.”
At Ball State, Farnsworth was an Honors College student, Whitinger Scholar, and Mid-American Conference Scholar Athlete of the Year (men’s track and field). Later he was named an Outstanding Young Alumnus and won Estopinal College’s Award of Outstanding Achievement.
He said he was impressed with the rigor and breadth of Berg’s course.
“I was a bit envious that I couldn’t sign up to take it,” Farnsworth said. “I appreciate the Honors College’s awareness of using a classical approach to prepare today’s students for the workplace. As one who is involved with interviewing prospective employees and working with young professionals, I understand and appreciate the need for education and training that goes from the ‘how’ to the ‘why,’ from job skills to life skills.”
“This was a great way to connect alumni in a meaningful way with ongoing curriculum development.” — Craig Farnsworth, ’86
For his part, Berg learned how an alumnus used his Ball State education. “Greek philosophy doesn’t come up on a usual workday for him, but every day he uses the processes he learned and practiced in the Honors College while grappling with that material.
“What did last were some of the behavioral and attitudinal things — how to persevere through difficult work, the value of taking that work seriously, being careful with data, getting things accurate, collaboration, assessing meaning, et cetera.
“Craig mentioned that he valued these learning outcomes in his own work but also in the employees he hires,” said Berg. He partnered with another Ball State alumnus this Summer on a different course and will serve as a group leader for other faculty members.
The Skills Infusion Program provided new perspectives for Farnsworth as well. “It gave me the opportunity to hit the ‘pause’ button and think back to what it was like as an entry-level professional and how my Ball State education prepared me for the workplace.
“I wanted to share any insights I may have learned in the 30-plus years since then with like-minded faculty so that they could incorporate real-world experiences into their classrooms. This was a great way to connect alumni in a meaningful way with ongoing curriculum development.”