The "I Made It” Chair: Applying Futures Thinking to Create a Student-Centered Counseling Model

MiraCosta College
Grossmont College
MiraCosta College

Note: The following article is not an official statement of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. The article is intended to engender discussion and consideration by local colleges but should not be seen as the endorsement of any position or practice by the ASCCC.

California community colleges have embraced the student-centered Guided Pathways framework to eliminate equity gaps. From clarifying pathways to front-loading career development and revising curriculum to providing integrated support, colleges are redesigning the student experience. Several colleges are adopting case management models to scale counseling and educational planning. Many of these efforts are only surface-level changes. The majority of students will continue to experience counseling services in the same way as they did prior to the adoption of Guided Pathways.

A different mindset described as “futures thinking” (Gorbis, 2019) can help to further refine counseling services. The following exercise might be used in a presentation to demonstrate this concept. The exercise would explore a potential future in counseling services where the student is truly the center and the focus. Participants would be asked to read the following scenario and take five minutes to write a descriptive narrative:

Scenario: The dean of counseling announces that beginning right now, counseling services will be conducted differently. You, along with all other counselors, have been instructed that when you call a student into a private office space, the student is to be invited to sit in “your chair” and you are to sit in the “student chair.” Your student appointment has just arrived.

Exercise: Take a moment to write down as much descriptive detail as possible about how you feel, what you think, and what you do in the next five minutes. Who is the student, and what does the student feel, think, and do in these five minutes? What is the conversation? Who else is involved? Develop a narrative with rich descriptive detail.

According to futures thinking, this type of exercise is critical to developing foresight, which then leads to insight and then to action. In other words, a futurist “builds plausible, internally consistent views of the future” (Gorbis, 2019) by developing scenarios and asking, “What does this mean to us?” The resultant insight can then be used to determine what actions should be taken to prepare for the potential future scenario. This foresight-insight-action framework can be used to apply proactive imagination to envisioning and creating the future one desires and taking the necessary actions to make it happen. By describing the scenario in detail, one can gain empathy for oneself and others. By sharing narratives with others, one can begin to learn the diverse responses to such a scenario and to gain the insight needed to develop an action plan that is well-informed.

In this scenario, one might imagine the student in many ways, such as a first-generation college student, a minoritized student, or a single Latina mother with her infant. One might also imagine the office in various ways, characterizing it as one’s own or as the student’s office. Other subjective variables may also come into play, such as how one imagines the student’s expression, how comfortable one would feel, and who was in control.

In reflecting on the exercise, one might consider what resistance one experienced in reading and reflecting, what needs to be addressed before one would feel comfortable in this student-centered scenario, what may need to change in one’s approach, and how one could decenter oneself and move toward this student-centered model.

The exercise might also lead one to ponder the future of counseling, such as whether counseling must even be performed in an office in the future scenario, what counseling might look like in five, ten, or fifteen years, and what new technology, behaviors, or services might be employed.

Finally, one might consider the potential impact if every counseling department or area meeting started with a foresight-insight-action framework scenario.

Aha Moment

Many in the counseling profession—whether within education, private practice, or healthcare and social assistance—engage in developing a holistic assessment of those they serve. They ask questions intended to learn and gain a deeper understanding of who they are serving and how they can collaborate with the students or clients with the goal of empowering them. The interesting aspect of the counselor-student relationship is that counselors strategically collaborate with students to create a safe environment by processing emotions, setting goals, and determining methods to accomplish those goals.

However, counselors tend to operate from a hierarchical approach simply based on where students and counselors sit when entering an office. For example, a 15-year-old high school sophomore, when asked how he knows where to sit when he enters his counselor’s office, responded, “I know where to sit because my chair is in front of the desk and the counselor's chair is behind the desk facing the computer.” He added that he need not to be told where to sit because he simply knows. When asked what it would mean to sit in the counselor’s chair, the 15-year-old without hesitation said, “empowered.”

When asked the same questions, an 18-year-old senior indicated he too knows where to sit based on how the office is set up but indicated he would feel “weird and out of place” instead of empowered if he were to sit in the counselor's chair. The aha moment is realizing how students are not the center, yet how educators are self-centered within the educational process. Students know their place and have been conditioned in knowing where to sit, and counselors have positioned themselves to be at the helm when conducting a counseling appointment.

One may question whether the counselor needs to be behind the desk and facing the computer and whether students could be allowed to sit in the “I made it” chair. Offices may not need to be designed with a hierarchical framework; perhaps offices could be designed with the students at the center and with counselors as more of a facilitator rather than the expert. Additionally, one might consider that having the students sit in the “I made it” chair provides them the ability to visualize their future by building on the behaviors, motivation, and choices geared to produce desired outcomes.


Students who are allowed to sit in the “I made it” chair have the potential to increase how they view their future success and generate a feeling of elation and belief in themselves. Doing so will potentially give students the additional drive to explore other career, academic, and personal opportunities they may not have considered. It could potentially help students develop emotional intelligence skills and provide them with the spark to feel in control of other aspects of their lives. The possibilities are endless, and counselors need to be vulnerable enough to allow their students to be in the driver's seat to navigate their future selves.

In addition to students developing a deeper sense of self, redefining the “I made it” chair can support new and innovative designs for office space, buildings, and academic centers. Offices would no longer have large and clunky desks impeding collaboration between two or more people or contributing to the hierarchical nature of office politics. Technology could be designed to allow fluidity and more creativity when serving students. Such design could be the spark to reconsider how classroom spaces are arranged and how inside and outside spaces are combined more effectively. Student academic centers could help expand their educational activities to integrate more collaboration among staff, community members, faculty, and administrators. The “I made it” chair has the potential to impact practices within industries outside of education. For example, companies might use this concept to implement innovative and equitable hiring practices or change the ways they provide internship and work experience opportunities. This concept could encourage minoritized populations to pursue career industries where they are least represented because they now have the opportunity to sit in the “I made it” chair.

Educational outcomes data for students seeking an undergraduate degree or certificate has remained relatively flat for years (National Center for Education Statistics, 2021). Educators have not even scratched the surface of addressing or collecting qualitative information from their students and the curricular practices impacting their students, particularly minoritized students. Many factors, variables, and interpretations impact the data; however, educators may want to consider how their approach to serving students has remained stagnant for years. For example, one might ask why so many African-American student athletes major in social sciences. Sanders and Hildenbrand (2010) suggest the answer is based on how African-American student athletes are matriculated. Clustering of student athletes, especially African Americans, in particular majors has occurred for years. Using the “I made it” chair may assist African-American student athletes to visualize other avenues of success. Educators may also find other patterns they can help students uncover through the “I made it” chair because it creates an opportunity to visualize success.


Gorbis, M. (2018, March 11). Five Principles for Thinking Like a Futurist. Educause Review,
National Center for Education Statistics. (2021). Trend Generator.
Sanders, J. P., & Hildenbrand, K. (2010). Major concerns? A longitudinal analysis of student-athletes academic majors in comparative perspective. Journal of Intercollegiate Sport, 3(2), 213-233.