The Defectors, Series 2: Brian LeDuc, Education Design Lab

Today’s Defectors contributor post comes from Brian LeDuc, Education Designer at the Education Design Lab. Not sure what we’re doing here yet? All is revealed here.


Education Designer. Campus Director. Higher Education Consultant, Performance Technologies. Manager for Leadership Programs. Graduate Hall Director. This is what I’ve been up to for the last seven years– for the most part, not your “traditional” set of job titles for a guy with a Master’s in Educational Administration. What I’ve found no matter where I’ve worked, is about stories, signals, and skills. Entering a new industry or role is partly about explaining your story, or foundation and interest in a new role, partly about translating your skills and abilities (and the gaps), and partly about putting in the time and effort to learn how to close that distance through signals of your investment of time, energy, and learning.

When I graduated from A&M, I was compelled by an opportunity to work not only in leadership education, but focused on systemic social issues, and in partnership with a dozen other Universities. It was the combination of student contact and engagement beyond the walls of campus that drew me in.  But it wasn’t long before I felt the limitations of working at an institution of 27,000 students but only impacting only a few hundred.  I felt like the information and insight I gained through my experience at NACA meant I had a responsibility to begin to take action beyond plugging into (what felt like) the “status quo.”  So I looked to my SAAHE network, exploring what other paths my work might take, and understanding the various roles that might allow me to view the field from a new perspective.

One of the things I overlooked at the time was that many of the graduates of the program weren’t working on a college campus at all. They were working at foundations and technology companies, non-profits and consulting firms. They were working in the ecosystem of higher education, but not directly with students.

Further, what I didn’t realize was that the conversations that were most interesting to me would actually be about the trends in higher ed at the intersection of student development, student success relevance of higher education, preparedness for life after college, and building a sustainable future for the association and higher education as a whole.

I wanted to impact more than just the students who I was able to connect with one on one, recognizing that even at my best, the systems I was working in weren’t prepared for the changes ahead in higher education.  

And while I was concerned that I wouldn’t be working with students everyday, I was excited by the idea of supporting thousands of campuses across the US at a place I saw making a difference. Watching the growing role that technology was playing in higher ed, and the focus and attention on advising and student success, I leapt to where I thought the puck might be headed, joining the EAB after a core of early Universities started implementing their advising technology. And that itch about losing connection with students altogether didn’t go away.  

Thankfully, the Kiwanis Key Leader program welcomed me on as a Lead Facilitator to their program, so 3-4 weekends a year I hang out with 60 high school students and chat with them about servant leadership, community engagement, and the leadership skills that are critical for success. And my time at EAB was pretty awesome. And in the process, I learned about project management, client relationship management, data analysis, improved my presentation skills, and learned about content management and cohort services (by building a few case studies), and used my background as a higher ed administrator and time on campus to inform our strategy for change management on campus while being immersed in work at a tech company building a new product. Oh, and I learned a bit about improv from The Second City along the way also.

Through EAB’s dual role in technology and research, I kept a pulse on the industry trends as a whole, and started to see several college alternatives and code schools focused on building specific skill sets emerge. I next joined The Iron Yard (a 12-week, intensive, coding bootcamp  startup for career changers looking to become software engineers) to see what life was like on the inside, alongside all of the excitement, speed, uncertainty, and frustration that comes with startup life. I fused my work as a higher ed administrator combined with an understanding of the tech world and married them with leadership education and skill development.

Serving in a role that placed me at the center of admissions, enrollment, student support, and career preparation and placement drastically changed my view about what college could look like, and the truths that we hold about what education is today.  While it wasn’t perfect, the deliberate focus on developing practical skills with career outcomes in mind and oversight across the entire student lifecycle and experience made me confident that traditional universities could benefit from exploring new approaches and models for their work.

Now armed with that knowledge and perspective, I’ve committed to combining the insight from bootcamps, startups, and tech companies in my work at the Education Design Lab, where we partner with education institutions using design thinking and other tools to consider how they might design education toward the future of work. Bringing in the threads of human-centered design used in tech, and skills like qualitative research, counseling, relationship and project management, and facilitation, I’m deepening my engagement of design thinking to build new models and pathways for education…that apply what I learned at The Iron Yard into traditional higher education, and new contexts.

I’ve shared quite a bit about how I feel about Education Administrators and their role in the future, and the ways that it’s likely to change.

Higher Education is experiencing massive disruptions; technologies that enable new approaches to engaging students and enhancing their learning, emerging educational pathways that didn’t exist before, and the constant evolution of the world of work and the knowledge, skills, and abilities that employers expect from new graduates. The emerging trends of “traditional” students is non-traditional: an older, part-time, student of color.

I see my work always landing somewhere between education, technology, education, and workforce informed from experiences across each of those areas– and it will be the result of exploring new opportunities to use and develop skills and knowledge that can translate across industries and organizational contexts. It will be the result of continuing to keep a pulse on trends in higher education, and thinking critically about “where the puck is going” and how to stay prepared and relevant to contribute in new, meaningful, ways.

I want to help to shape higher education to adapt to the changing worlds of work, technology, and culture, which means being close enough to help, but far enough not to be distracted by “business as usual” besides the frame to consider adapting from.

Brian serves as an Education Designer at the Education Design Lab. Since earning his Master’s degree in Education administration, Brian’s been serving across higher education as a leadership educator, helping universities improve retention and graduation rates using technology, and running a coding bootcamp in DC.  Brian likes running other things too, like Meetups and marathons. When he’s not on the Potomac in a kayak, camping in the woods, or in the audience at a concert, he’s probably watching The Office or Arrested Development on Netflix. Give him a shout at brianfleduc@gmail.com.

The Defectors (series 2) is sponsored by Presence. At Presence, we’re working to solve all of the higher ed problems you’ve always heard couldn’t be fixed. If you love asking questions, finding solutions to intricate problems, and learning about new people and places, we want you to join our team. Check out our open positions and apply today!