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Case Study BA (Hons) Economics through Transformational Learning

Transition to Professional Life 1,2 & 3, BA (Hon) Economics (through Transformational Learning)

Name: Daniel Blackshields

Contact: 0214903515


Programme/Course/Module: Transition to Professional Life 1,2 & 3, BA (Hon) Economics (through Transformational Learning)



The Integration of disciplinary and professional competencies, capacities, and the Self is imperative for students qua graduates’ 21st century employability.  By co-designing and co-delivering (Dept of Economics, UCC Careers Services and Industry Sponsors and Champions) the Transition to Professional Life module suite; going beyond the artificial confines of exclusively teaching and assessing within the scholarly dimension of a University student’s development, the graduate values and attributes that embody graduate employability and thus students’ developmental potential as they transition in, through and out of University can be revealed and challenged. To be good company on our students’ transitional journeys, Faculty should embrace ways of authentically integrating the scholarly, professional and personal dimensions of our students’ development.


In what context does this initiative/practice take place?

The vast majority of students seek Graduate Employment opportunities post-graduation. The Transition to Professional Life (TPL) module suite’s thoroughline is that students must become reflexively aware of and experience ‘being professional’ and operating ‘within’ and ‘through’ professional spaces in a manner that is explicitly integrated with their scholarly and personal development. We embody UCC’s strategic objective to ‘strengthen world-ready graduate skills…’ (UCC Strategic Plan 2017-2022, p. 27) embedded in Priority 4 of the Academic Strategy’s vision that   

‘wherever UCC graduates are in the world, they will be guided by core values and attributes they have developed to become well-rounded, curious, self-aware, individuals, with the ambition to continually learn new skills, be open to new ideas and make things happen’.

The TPL module suite, labelled a deep dive learning journey to employability (drawing on Otto Scharmer’s Theory-U (2009)), is a high challenge and support design for students to discover authentic employment paths by: 

i) Increasing awareness of graduate employment environments;

ii) Increasing awareness of developing scholarly; professional & personal competencies, capacities & capabilities

iii) Increasing awareness and ability to map competencies, capacities and capabilities to future employer needs.


What was the rationale for introducing this initiative/practice/project?

Graduate employment environments are experientially unfamiliar to students. Further, the demands within these environments in the 21st Century is deeper than ‘competence’ (knowledge and skill) with increasing demands on students’ capacity (motivation, personality, mindset) and capability (ways of meaning-making, sense-making). The implications of the uncertainty and complexity of the world is that there is no well-worn graduate employment path for our students. Therefore, a singular focus on developing students’ scholarly competence is, at best, partial in terms of what a University education could demand of itself for our graduates. Students must be able to embrace the liminal space of the 21st century, rooted in an ethical attitude to remain open, creative. The criticality and creativity demanded of us as individuals and collectively must be anchored in the virtues of humility, modesty and accountability (see Sardar, 2009) if we are individually and collectively navigate ourselves through our current and anticipated future milieus. Ultimately students are challenged as humans in a holistic sense.

Our ethos in the TPL module suite is that our learning environments can be sacred spaces to integrate Self-development with disciplinary studies.  Scaffolding reflexivity requires the cultivation of space for students to explore how disciplinary understanding is shaping who they are becoming as they transition through university in preparation to transition out to professional environments.



TPL1, TPL2, TPL3 delivered as a 10-credit module; 48 contact hours each year) in BAECN Year 1, 2 and 3 respectively).


Our design is research-informed, anchored in the integrated pedagogical frames of Transformative Learning; Integrative Learning Reflective Practice; Teaching for Understanding and Assessment as Learning.

Our three anchor development dimensions are reflective of key graduate employability values and attributes, categorised (adapting Otto Laske’s Developmental Human Resource Pyramid (2006)), as:

Competencies: Discipline & Professional Knowledge, Skills

Capacities: Personality, Motivation, Mindset

Capabilities: Ways of Meaning-making, Sense-making

Foregrounding assessment as learning student-centred performances of understanding (POUs) are devised for students to integrate their knowing, doing and being. POUs are designed sequentially with a growing level of complexity and student self-reliance both within each TPL and across the TPL suite from introductory performances (exploring specific competencies, capacities and capabilities) to guided performances (building on introductory performances) to culminating performances (students reflexively demonstrating their transformed understanding).


Are there any unique elements?

Anticipating the National Employer Survey (2015) demand that Faculty reach out, liaise, collaborate, engage and interact with business, we adopted an integrative teaching approach, co-designing and co-delivering the module suite as a three-way partnership with UCC Career Services, academics, eight employers forming a University–Industry Collaboration (Bank of Ireland, Citco, CSO, Davy, Glanbia, KPMG, Musgrave, Zurich) and external employer ‘champions’ (Aspira, Blackstone Launchpad, Clearstream, Dell, Enterprise Ireland, EY, Evening Echo,  Fastnet, FDM, IBEC, IAPA, Leadnow, Making Shift Happen, Morgan McKinley, Poppulo, Pundit Arena, Tom Connolly Project Management).

TPL1 (BAECN1) introduces and explores professional competencies and capacities (leadership/followership; problem-solving; collaboration, project management; professional oral communication) and personal reflective practice. POUs (for instance newspaper editing, creating project charters, entrepreneurial design challenge and stimulated consultancy) designed for students to engage, reflect and experiment to unlock their own development potential.

The Consulting Case Study (TPL1’s Culminating Performance)

This consulting case study performance is a simulation of a graduate assessment centre case study performance. It is designed to enable students (individually and in groups) to experience and subsequently reflect on the integration of professional and personal competencies, capacities and capabilities students have been exploring throughout the academic year. Students role-play as process consultants designing and orally presenting solutions to ‘strategic issue(s)’ designed and presented by their clients (our industry partners/champions) on the day of the case study. This performance gives students an insight into the competencies, capacities and capabilities transferable to a range of roles in business (and other) environments The Consulting Case Study is both a developmental plateau for TPL 1 and an introductory performance for TPL2.

TPL11 and TPL111 are designed to empower students’ transformative development (unlocked in TPL 1) illuminating their discovery of potential professional paths. TPL11 (BAECN 11) engages students in increasingly challenging POUs (Employer Informational Interviews, and Professional Site Visits) nurturing reflexivity, developing learning from TPL1. TPL111 (BAECN 111), through Stimulated Graduate Interviews and Assessment Centre POUs, invites students to become aware of professional possibilities open and integral to their way of being.

Professional Site Visit students (TPL2’s Culminating Performance)

The overarching learning goal of the Professional Site Visit is to enable students to experience performing within the unfamiliar professional environment. Students are allocated into groups and each group is allocated one of our industry partners as their client. Each client presents a focal issue for their allocated group to critically and creatively investigate. In this learning journey (preparation, participation and post visit), our aspiration is that students are connected to the people and environments that are relevant to the possible futures that they are constructing for themselves.  Following a week-long ‘bootcamp’; where groups are challenged and supported to design, reflect and re-design their problem-solving project, students visit our industry partners’ headquarters to present orally on their project to senior and other invited staff.  This POU is both a developmental plateau for TPL2 and further serves as a guided performance for TPL3.

Simulated Graduate Interviews & Assessment Centre (TPL3’s Culminating Performance)

In this series of POUs students are immersed in the performances authentic to the recruitment process. We challenge and support students to engage reflexively with their lived experiences (scholarly, professionally and personally) in order to take stock, identify what they know, how they act and who they are. We use the authentic assessment formats of ‘the C.V., Graduate Interview and Assessment Centre (supported by our industry sponsors and champions) as a means for students’ to interrogate what they know and are able to do in a manner that enables them to seek possibilities for their way of being in the world post degree. Following participation in these performances, students engage in what we call a transformative dialogue with members of the Careers Service where a safe space is created for them to individually explore their ability to become aware of and transform the way in which they think, act and feel across the three integrated pillars of development (scholarly, professional and personal) with their transition out of University in mind.


How has this practice helped the development of 'graduate attributes' in your students? 

University students have arrived at a point of transition between the person they were, are and are becoming. Throughout our journey together, we experientially explore what it is to think and act with and through economics (scholarly) and how this scholarly frame impacts and is impacted by their concurrent professional and personal development. Students’ are scaffolded to see their developing competencies, capacities and capabilities as a means through which they could come to understand who they are, what they do and how they go about in the world. It seeks to enable them to perceive their academic and non-academic lived experiences as turning points to becoming and being authentic – to take responsibility – to embody an intentional learning capacity. UCC#s Graduate Attributes and Values help us to articulate a central feature in the design of the TPL suite – the explicit integration of both epistemological and ontological dimensions of a student’s development – the knowing, doing and being.


How are you going to make Graduate Attributes development explicit in the expression of the Curriculum and Learning Outcomes?

We have embedded Graduate Attributes and Values throughout our Module outlines and in the rationale for each performance and assessment.


What suggestions would you give to others considering introducing a similar initiative/practice in their own department/institution?

The Integration of disciplinary and professional competencies, capacities, and the Self is imperative for students qua graduates’ 21st century employability.  By going beyond the artificial and fragmented confines of exclusively teaching within the scholarly dimension, awareness and exploitation of a students’ developmental potential can be revealed and challenged. As educators we must start from where the vast majority of our students are – seeking a University education to improve their life-long career aspirations.  If we want to add value on their journey, given the uncertainty and complexity of the 21st Century, we should explicitly embed the integration of their scholarly, professional and personal dimensions of growth within our curricula.  


Key features/strengths of the approach described in this case study

This module is student performance-focused. Each workshop is designed as a deep dive learning space acting as a stimulation for participants’ to strive to become integrated and coherent as authentic ‘being-one’-self’. Each workshop (intensive, focused and integrated in nature) is  designed to support the creation of the physical, temporal and mental space  needed for students to ‘turn back to themselves’ and thus scaffold forming and establishing themselves and being self-determining – the ultimate goal of a an education that is trans-form-ative.

We nurture students to take responsibility for who they are becoming via integrated developmental pillars: 

  1. Developing economics competencies (Scholarly Development)
  2. Developing professional competencies and capacities (Professional Development)
  3. Developing Self-awareness competencies, capacities & capabilities (Personal Development)


Any student/employer/stakeholder testimonials?

The feedback from students, internal UCC stakeholders and external stakeholders has been positive towards this programme; specifically the TPL dimension of the programme. For instance:

“I have not only learnt some very interesting economics from brilliant lecturers, which is what obviously attracted me to the course in the first place but also learnt many skills that can be brought with me in the future and this module has taught me a lot about myself." Keelin McShane, Final Year,2019-2020.

“…these modules have allowed me to better understand myself… I have been able to analyse why I have acted as I have… to recognise what it is incentivises me, what I value, my morals and the factors that influence the decisions I make. Understanding these aspects of myself has made me more aware of the contributions I want to make….”  Aidan Buckley, graduated 2017.

 “ …Visiting CITCO... was extremely out of my comfort zone but it really gave me the opportunity to come out of my shell... an amazing experience and such a unique one…many of my friends were shocked to hear that we were presenting to actual professionals...” Amy Dorney,  graduated 2019.

 “ [TPL] is ground-breaking, unique, and I hope… a blueprint for the future.  Employers want more than ‘book-smarts’, it is those individuals with emotional intelligence…that get the jobs and progress through the hierarchies…when it  comes to having the  best start in life -  I’ve seen no better degree programme in the UK.”  Todd Eden CEO (Leadnow Ltd)

“Our engagement with the students to support their flourishing creates a unique learning environment that we hope will have a long lasting impact and be mutually beneficial.”  Paul Vance, Head, Resourcing, KPMG (Ireland).

“I very much welcome and support the University-Industry collaboration designed by the School of Economics and Careers Service. It is an innovative and exciting venture in transforming undergraduate education to meet the integrated academic and professional needs of graduates for the 21st century.” Rónán Ó Dubhghaill, V.P. for External Relations/Director of Strategic Planning & Institutional Research, UCC.

“ [BAECN] is a major investment in radically modernising undergraduate economics education… an exemplar for the re-design of other programmes… as we strive to meet the ‘employability’ needs of our students and stakeholders.”  Professor Niall O’Sullivan, (then) Head, Economics, UCC.

“This innovative, developmental and progressive employability module is helping inform the Academic Strategy for UCC for 2018-2022 and addresses UCC’s strategic goal of enabling students to be “World and Work Ready.” Seamus McEvoy, (then) Head, Career Services, UCC.

BAECN’s pedagogy was praised by Professor Robert Kegan, Harvard School of Education for its ” [t]houghtfulness, originality and usefulness”. The TPL module suite has been nationally recognised; Kavanagh and Blackshields being nominated for the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Teaching Experts Learning Impact Award 2017; Kavanagh, McNulty and Blackshields being nominated for the UCC President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching 2017 and winning the Association of Higher Education Careers Services (AHECS) Excellence – Employability Award 2017. AHECS (2017) Employability Excellence Award Judge’s Statement:

‘This is a developmental, inspirational and incremental employability initiative that can act as a template for other departments and other institutions.’ and was shortlisted for the Career Impact Strategy Award of the Education Awards 2019.

Graduate Attributes Programme

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