Pivot in the Classroom: Case Studies

Mount St. Mary’s with Dr. Caitlin Faas

Dr. Caitlin Faas is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland. She teaches junior-year psychology majors at the undergraduate level. Her course “PSYCH 390: Research Preparation” guides students through the beginning stages of choosing a senior-year research project. The class involves choosing a research hypothesis and conducting a literature search, ethical analysis, and feasibility assessment. 

Caitlin found that she talked a lot about career development in this class, as one of the course objectives was to develop professional direction for life after graduation. So, Caitlin sought to introduce Pivot in the classroom. 

“While I was hodge-podging the information about career development before, Pivot gave me a streamlined way to talk about it,” said Caitlin. 

To guide the career development talks, Caitlin now uses the Map What's Next Workbook as a primary course material, assigning sections of the workbook for homework and including supplemental assignments like creating a LinkedIn profile, updating resumes, writing a cover letter, and asking for a letter of recommendation. In addition to the workbook, Caitlin also uses lecture, in-class assignments, videos, and other teaching techniques. 

Overall, Caitlin has found using the Pivot Method in her classroom helpful in providing a proven method and framework for navigating career decisions and shifts. 

“I feel much more organized in teaching about career development with the Pivot Method. It also lends another level of authority, because sometimes the students are skeptical of "what I have to say about the real world"—with good reason as I've always been in academia! So having Jenny as another authority figure that is telling them about careers really helps,” said Caitlin. 

As for her students, Caitlin reports that she is watching them as seniors now and they still come to her office for follow-up career conversations. It is a tight-knit community at Mount St. Mary’s, where most students and professors know each other, lending well to continued conversation and growth. 

Marlboro College Graduate School with Professor Travis Hellstrom

Travis Hellstrom is a professor and Chair of the MBA program at Marlboro College Graduate School in Brattleboro, Vermont. In the final year of the MBA program, students participate in a three-part Master Workshop Series, where they synthesize past coursework and develop the skills needed for success as future leaders post-graduation. 

For MBA students, learning to pivot and navigate career change is a critical skill. In his advising sessions with his students, Travis found himself informally using the Pivot Method and Pivot coaching practices to guide students through career conversations. Students were looking for advising on not only what classes to take, but also around bigger challenges like what they should do as a career and what they should focus on for their capstone projects. 

“This is where the Pivot methodology was particularly helpful. We would talk about where they want to be and how they can get there, through mentorships, running experiments, and other aspects of the methodology. Overall, I have found coaching is the best approach to student advising, and it is a natural fit,” said Travis. 

This advising technique was so successful that the faculty agreed they didn’t want only some students to benefit from the Pivot Method. So, Travis led the initiative to pilot the Pivot method with the MBA program, and found a natural fit for a class on the Pivot Method in the Master Workshop Series. 

The class is structured around the table of contents of Pivot. With 12 chapters in the book and 14 weeks of class, Travis typically covers one chapter a week. He decided to extend coverage of Chapter 5: Bolster Your Bench to two weeks, since developing and maintaining mentorships is a particularly key focus of the course. For assignments, students typically read a chapter each week and reflect on related questions and prompts in a Leadership Journal. In the classroom, Travis combines Pivot materials with other teaching techniques and exercises, like the Critical Friends Exercise. 

Travis finds that a small, intimate classroom group setting works well for teaching and going through the Pivot Method. He notes, “In class the students really like the cohort experience. At this point, they have been in the program together for a couple years, so it’s really special to go through the Pivot method in a class setting. These classes model what it means to have a supportive team and what that looks like—we’re all together as we make our way through the pivot method.”

As of Fall 2017, this class is running for its third trimester in a row. The faculty has seen such success and enthusiasm from the MBA students, that they have expanded the offering to all programs. 

“This course really creates a space for transformation, and you can see it in the students—this is one of the reasons I teach the class,” said Travis. 

Stanford University with Professor Katherine Nobles

Katherine Nobles is the Assistant Director of Career Communities at Stanford University, teaching juniors, seniors, and graduate students of all disciplines.

In her course Creating Your Courageous Career: Developing Your Impact, Katherine teaches many students who have already been in the workforce, are unsure of their future academic path, and/or are going back to school to make a career pivot of some kind. The Pivot Method provided a natural framework for this class.

“We liked Jenny’s approach to not thinking about careers linearly and getting comfortable with change,” Katherine said.

Class time is spent discussing the readings as a group and then doing interactive exercises like a worksheet, pair/share, or mapping. After the exercises, students will then debrief either in small groups or come back together as a large group for discussion. Final moments of the class are reserved for reflection and journaling.

Katherine expands on the Pivot readings in class by bringing the concepts into group discussion and assigning suggested activities from the book, like crafting a one-year vision, filling out Your Career Permission Slip, and completing an Opportunity Grid. Katherine also incorporates several other authors’ work, including Brene Brown, Kristin Neff, Katharine Brooks, and Daniel Pink.

Homework between classes typically include reading a book chapter or article, or listening to a podcast or TED Talk relevant to an upcoming topic. Class requirements also include two short papers, participation in two 30-minute coaching sessions, and a final presentation.  

While still a relatively new class at Stanford, Katherine notes how well the Pivot Method resonates with her students:

“Their one-year vision papers were great, and they are learning to get comfortable with forging an unchartered career path.”