Meet the Higher Education Challenge Cards Champions

JP Michel

Launched in 2017, SparkPath’s Challenge Cards fill a gap in current career exploration and development tools. Physical and digital formats are available and more than 25,000 decks are in use worldwide. This innovative approach has thousands of community members, many of whom serve as champions of these tools today including those working in higher education.

Challenge Card Champion - Jennifer Baytor

After years of running traditional career fairs, Jennifer Baytor decided it was time for a change. As a career advisor at the University of Western Ontario, she knew of several issues with the traditional format Two of the most prominent issues: (1) students mostly visit employers they already know and (2) employers struggle to communicate what they do to students. 

To address these issues, Jennifer decided to flip the model. First, their team used the Challenge Cards to help students identify  challenges they wanted to solve. Next, they asked students to look for employers at the career fair that were actively working on the challenges they cared about. 

The Challenge Cards approach provided two clear benefits to students. First, they connected with  potential employers they didn’t know about. Second, it set them up for more meaningful conversations with these employers. Consider the quality of information and confidence that comes from asking “how are you working on this challenge?” instead of  “What jobs do you offer and how much do they pay?”

The career fair employers also found this model to be beneficial. The students’ questions allowed them to articulate their value proposition in an engaging format. By sharing the challenges they were trying to solve, they were able to attract students whose motivations were more aligned with their own. 

Jennifer used the Challenge Cards to innovate on her campus. Her efforts led to better results for the students and for her partner players.

Jennifer’s is just one example of dozens of Challenge Cards champions who are transforming career exploration on their campus. 


The DNA of a Challenge Card Champion 

To learn more about the work of these champions, a survey was conducted in 2022. Twenty-one clients/customers representing higher education institutions in North America provided feedback.

Here is sample of what they had to say about the Challenge Cards:  


When asked how they would feel if they could no longer use SparkPath Challenge Cards, all responses expressed some level of disappointment with the majority indicating they would be very disappointed

Benefits of Using Challenge Cards

In our recent survey, clients currently using Challenge Cards in their career development settings identified several specific benefits related to career exploration and assessment. 

1) Reframing Career Exploration and Decision-Making

How do Challenge Cards help students think differently about their own careers? They aid in establishing a student’s priorities, passions, convey application of skills across challenges and areas of work, and expand student awareness of possibilities they can pursue in the world of work.


When are Challenge Cards most helpful in the career services process? Challenge Card champions shared that they are useful in conversations about majors/careers early or pre-college, one-on-one advising and in group settings, in establishing why a student wants to pursue a field/job, and to stimulate conversation about meaningful work.


2) Rapid Assessment

The format of the Challenge Card approach to career exploration also offers a way for career services professionals to quickly connect with students, and a way to quickly connect students with a new way to think about career exploration.



Challenge Cards are Highly Recommended

When asked if they would recommend Challenge Cards to a colleague, the response was overwhelmingly positive. 

On a scale of 1 to 10, (1 being very unlikely to recommend and 10 being very likely to recommend), the mean rating given customers responding to our survey was 9.43. More than half of respondents selected 10.

Why a Challenge Mindset Approach is Important Today 

Real-world problem solving is at the crux of the future of work. Challenge Cards provoke a critical thinking approach that moves students from the more passive review of job titles and descriptions to thinking of themselves as active problem solvers in the workplace.

This work is reinforced through the feedback we regularly receive from those applying the strategies in their workplaces. Those responding to our survey shared their perspectives on how the Challenge Cards help them engage students. 



Where Do Challenge Cards Go From Here?

Our team is continuously working to enhance the Challenge Cards tools and the experiences career advisors and students can have when applying them in a career services setting. Current projects include: Challenge card profile completion, connecting challenges to employers, and creating cohort based deep dives.

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