The Missing Piece of the Puzzel

I was recently talking with a client working in higher education, who from the start became a friend.  He and I are connected in our earnestness to do work that is meaningful - work that we hope matters and that elevates the lives of others.  He paid me the best compliment I have received in a very long time; one of those compliments that makes you smile from the inside out because you feel truly seen for the best of whom you know yourself to be.  He said; “Kristin, you have a rare balance of head and heart.”

If is from this place of balancing the head and the heart that I wish to make a difference. I yearn to connect people to the best within themselves, much like he did for me. I see possibility and potential where others often just experience frustration and stuckness.  This is especially true as it relates to college students - particularly those for whom the path to success is less than easy, and unfortunately less of a guarantee.

The real question I continue to ask myself is: With all the time, effort and resources allocated to student support services, where do there still exist blind-spots to driving greater equity and better outcomes for more students?

I do not claim to know the best technology or systems to ensure that we’re strategically identifying and prioritizing students most at risk.  But, it is my observation that we’re doing perhaps two things that are keeping us too myopic in our efforts;

  1. Allowing our reliance on technology to disproportionately provide the in-road
  2. Approaching student success efforts with a disproportionate focus on “building relationships/sharing knowledge”

Please note my use of the word “disproportionate”. I use this word very deliberately because when we invest heavily in one valuable area to the deficit of another, we risk unintentionally diminishing our vision. To be clear, both technology and the desire to build relationships and share critical knowledge with students is paramount and has made an important difference. These two solutions are elemental, however they are only two pieces of the entire puzzle.  The goal is to get as close to wholeness as possible and in that effort, I see an essential missed opportunity - one that balances both head and heart, while still remaining scalable.

The piece that I see missing - the gap, as it were - is around whom students know themselves to be. Here’s the thing: students don’t just need a relationship with key support people, and they don’t just need access to and support around the transfer of knowledge.  What they FIRST need is a solid relationship with themselves; a belief in who they are and in what’s possible.  

Does that sound uncomfortably abstract in nature? Well if so, this is not at all surprising because there are very few models or approaches to render it more grounded, concrete and actionable.  Let’s unpack this.

Most approaches to student coaching or mentoring arrive at the endeavor from the lens of;

  • Where are you now?
  • Where do you want to be?

  • How are you going to get there?

While at the same time, concepts like “social-emotional intelligence” and “non-cognitive abilities” are recognized as important factors in student success, but not embedded in those above questions. Folks, we’re getting closer; our conversations are starting to evolve, but they are not quite there.


The most fundamental question, and the one that will deploy non-cognitive capacity in students is;

Who do you know yourself to be?

Students need to have a vision of who they are as a college student that is both current and realistic, while at the same time inspired and transformative. Both can be unlocked through thoughtful inquiries that bring awareness to the unique experiences, qualities and demonstrated capacities of our students. When they can put words to “whom they know themselves to be” from the lens of capacity rather than deficiency, they simply take care of themselves differently… Meaning, they move toward relationships and are more likely to access knowledge and resources more reliably.

I am eager to connect with thought-partners who are passionately committed to shepherding success for more students.  I have created avenues to make this possible for institutions in a scalable way through the use of direct to student experiences.  What would it be like if more students - from the get-go - had the ability to invest in and identify their own strengths, prior to facing the invariable challenges awaiting them?