When I think about Career Readiness I think about the importance of meaningful work, which is different for everyone. My own career did not follow a traditional path. I pursued my interests, which led me to complete an Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Anthropology and Business, and ultimately to a position in academia as a Professor of Design Management. What makes my profession “meaningful” is that I work at the intersection of anthropology, design, and business. I weave theory and practice, or praxis, in ways that bring the unique value of each field to my projects, research, and teaching.
Design Anthropology Praxis
An example here is the project that a group of my graduate students conducted last spring with a local community school in Savannah, Georgia. Many of my students are international and some of them have several years of professional experience in their home countries. Our client, a charter school that includes an elementary and middle school, was founded six years ago.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit in its second year of operation. The school, with predominantly African American pupils, is based on a Quaker model which strives to educate the “Whole Child,” meaning body, mind, and spirit. My class, which focused on facilitating creative thinking, involved collaborating with a group of approximately 30 stakeholders that included school administrators, board members, faculty, and parents.
The “stated goal” of the project was to assist in developing a strategic plan that would address six areas:
- School Culture
- Academic Achievement
- Trauma/Social and Emotional Learning
- Place-based Learning
- Parent Engagement.
My graduate students and I started by reading about creativity from various sources and launched ethnographic research to understand our clients and the historic and current context of Savannah. The poverty rate of this city hovers around 34%.
We later learned through interviews that the strategic plan was the initiative of the interim director who was unpopular with just about everyone. Fortunately, both anthropology and design share a high tolerance for uncertainty and living in mystery. Students learn that managing the unexpected is a critical skill for this work, so we carried on.
Fast-forward 10 weeks and the students presented their final deliverables depicted on a large poster which included:
- a Values Framework serving as a “North Star” (shown in the accompanying graphic)
- a Toolkit that includes a description of practices and interactive activities to engage stakeholders in co-creating and facilitating change to reach their goals in each focus area
- a research Process Book that details the journey of the collaborative effort.
Our client was delighted, finding our project useful and meaningful. The methods and mindsets of anthropology, design, and business combined in this project to deliver value to our client. Anthropology’s holistic mindset and signature method of ethnography established a deep appreciation of both the past and present context. Design’s orientation to facilitating interaction and co-creating potential futures animated the student team and stakeholders. Finally, the school’s survival depends on a feasible business model and a mission that is communicated through a clear brand message and consistent brand language.
This project also delivered value in the form of meaningful work to the graduate students through experiential learning. Working with the school created a rare opportunity for the international students to experience a unique slice of American life.
As you “ready” yourself for your career, be open to the opportunities which will come your way. These kinds of hands-on learning experiences can have a variety of positive effects, even beyond satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. Some will offer career direction while others will help you gain familiarity with a particular literature and set of methods. Still others will become part of your “go-to” examples that help explain why you got involved in anthropology. You will be able to extract distinct lessons – and meaning – from these experiences and apply them throughout your career.