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The Aspire Program at Carthage College has grown exponentially through the implementation of My Aspire Plan (MAP). By utilizing Suitable’s web and mobile platform, MAP assists students with developing skills in leadership, creativity, and entrepreneurship through co-curricular involvement and experiential learning. As a 4-year career and life navigation tool, MAP is a digital scrapbook that tracks student progress and engagement within The Aspire Program while simultaneously connecting on- and off-campus experiences with Carthage’s nine competencies.
Located on Lake Michigan in Kenosha, Wisconsin is Carthage College, a four-year private liberal arts college that is religiously affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Founded in 1847, Carthage is home to 2,600 undergraduate students who are enrolled in over 50 areas of study. According to the U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review, Carthage ranks among the Midwest’s best universities. Most recently, Carthage launched a new mascot: Ember the Firebird.
Before Suitable, Carthage used The Aspire Program as a way to encourage student engagement. However, the college was looking to expand its traditional career development and reach more students. Luckily for Carthage and its students, the college received a $15 million dollar gift, which they used to expand career readiness through the incorporation of leadership, creativity, and entrepreneurship into its student engagement activities. This is where My Action Plan came in. Originally titled iAspire, Carthage rebranded the program to “My Aspire Plan” (MAP) because similarly to people using maps to navigate the world, its students use MAP to navigate their Carthage experience. MAP became integrated into Carthage’s holistic advising model, meaning students had teams of career specialists and faculty advisors who were using MAP to support them throughout their time at Carthage.
Although Carthage developed MAP, the college still had no comprehensive or effective way of collecting and tracking student engagement data. Since the college relied on manual appointment tracking and Excel spreadsheets, there was limited data and insights to inform future programming. On top of this lack of data management, the student experience on campus was extremely passive – students had to use clunky ID scanners at events and had no interface to track their MAP progress.
To combat these problems, Carthage searched for a student success software that could help track their student engagement through MAP, collect reflections from their students, and assess the impact of their experiential learning activities. The system also had to be scalable in terms of having holistic data available to drive future programming decisions. And this is where Suitable came in.
Suitable has flipped the script of how Carthage’s MAP is engaging with its students. A core piece of MAP includes its nine competencies, which are a blend of the NACE competencies, the college’s institutional learning outcomes, and The Aspire Program's mission and goals. Students typically understand that they need these competencies but sometimes have a difficult time connecting them to their on- and off-campus experiences. With MAP, students have a sidekick that makes explicit connections between the competencies that employers are looking for and the experiences they are having.
In addition to competencies, MAP powered by Suitable allows students to create a digital scrapbook that captures their “best-of” moments. MAP helps students articulate their story and what their campus experiences have meant to them. To capture their narratives, MAP has key experiences in the form of achievements, also called digital badges, that students earn throughout their college experience. It’s important that Carthage celebrates students who complete these achievements because it acts as an incentive to facilitate greater student adoption of Suitable among other students.
Celebrating student achievements isn’t the only strategy Carthage has for student adoption.. They know that getting students aware of MAP earlier and often is the best way to build sustainable participation. To that end, students are automatically enrolled in Suitable through MAP, so it’s just a matter of the students saying yes! From orientation to first-year courses, students are continuously reminded of MAP.
Back in Fall 2021, Carthage soft launched MAP through a branded mobile app on Suitable. The Carthage team relied on orientation sessions with first-year students, alongside Resident Assistant and student organization training. Having these student leaders advocate for Suitable helps spread the word on campus. As for more traditional promotions, Carthage does tabling around campus, posts videos on social media, and develops MAP laptop stickers. To further integrate into the student community, Carthage hosted presentations about Suitable for student organizations.
After the soft launch, Carthage used the subsequent summer to review how they were using Suitable and MAP. Originally, MAP only featured nine achievements, but Carthage decided to scale it to 15 achievements. Additionally, the college moved its achievements to being points-based as opposed to experience-based. One of these new achievements was titled Firebird Launch, which is awarded to students who complete the pre-orientation program. To earn this badge, students have to complete three types of activities that all provide hands-on experience as preparation for the Fall semester.
In Fall 2022, Suitable released a new capability that allowed Carthage to segment achievements, offering a choose-your-own adventure experience for students based on certain demographic and metadata. Before this feature, students were seeing all the possible achievements at one time, which was overwhelming. To ease students into using Suitable, Carthage leaned into this new feature by creating prerequisites to level through so that certain badges only appear once others are completed. This makes MAP more achievable for students.
On top of these improvements, Carthage also incorporated fun events for its students, most notably their campus-wide Halloween competition. This past year, the college’s competition was titled MAP-opoly. Not only did this highlight MAP for students, but the competition also featured different activities that each aligned with the college’s nine competencies. This helped students gain a familiarity with Suitable’s mobile technology and their MAPs they use to track their real-time progress.
Another crucial piece to MAP being successful is its integration into Carthage’s curriculum. Taught by the Aspire staff, specifically career specialists, the January term (J-Term) courses teach students about career planning and life post-graduation. The Aspire staff infuses MAP into their students’ homework by having them complete reflections every night on Suitable. These reflections have become an active learning tool for students as it helps them understand what competencies they built in class. What makes these reflections even better is that students complete them directly on Suitable, which they can refer back to at any point in their college career.
However, not all students are enrolled in the J-Term course. To ensure students continuously use Suitable, Carthage implemented a semester wrap-up activity. The college sends students an activity at the end of the semester so that they can share what projects they worked on and what leadership opportunities they grew and learned from.
Director, The Aspire Program, Carthage College
By fully incorporating MAP into Carthage’s Aspire Program, students are engaged with MAP at all times. Every engagement, from events to advising, is featured on MAP, which helps Carthage understand what is happening on their campus.
Suitable is Carthage’s primary point of data collection because the platform makes it simple to pull attendance data and other demographic information, such as who a student’s career specialist is. This helps faculty with creating student engagement reports. Student engagement data demonstrates that participation is growing fast – up from 40% in Fall 2021 to 53% in Fall 2022.
Given MAP’s success, Carthage is excited to continue developing the program through gaining more faculty buy-in. To do so, Carthage will be onboarding other campus departments into MAP, such as the Engagement and Inclusion Center and the Center for Faith and Spirituality. For instructors, Carthage plans to integrate MAP with its LMS, Schoology. Various reflection assignments students do in class on Schoology will now be directly linked to Suitable. This integration of MAP experiences with Carthage’s courses will be simple as students do not have to log into different platforms.
In the short run, Carthage plans to simplify achievements by making use of Suitable’s pathways as a means of segmentation. Specific audiences and student populations will have their own defined pathways that are points-based, making it more achievable for students. Carthage also hopes to expand the career ambassador program. Career ambassadors are student employees who meet with and assist students with completing MAP. These tasks range from peer reviewing resumes to regularly scheduled MAP check-ins to ensure students are progressing toward completing the next achievement. This also offers Carthage the opportunity to proactively intervene if a student is not on track or starting to disengage.
Additionally, Carthage aims to offer more incentives for participating in MAP, such as providing students with Birdie Bucks. Carthage’s food service provider can load Birdie Bucks directly onto students’ ID cards, which students can use to buy their choice of food and beverage. Another incentive Carthage plans to implement includes recognition at the end-of-year student leadership awards. Students who appear on Suitable’s leaderboard will be celebrated and recognized at this awards ceremony.
As for Carthage’s long-term vision, the college hopes to improve students’ ability to understand and articulate their developed skills and competencies as a result of their experiences at Carthage. They plan to accomplish this by offering additional departmental and student organization integration with MAP, creating broader student reach. On top of this, Carthage is working to include the MAP icon on Carthage’s campus-wide calendar so students can recognize what events and experiences count toward MAP achievements.