Employing Superheroes to Empower Underserved Student Populations
By Casey L. Covel
In 2019, over 52% of Americans planned to see “Avengers: Endgame” in theaters (Nguyen, 2019). Connecting with students through the medium of pop culture allows career development personnel to form meaningful connections via shared interests. Seven out of every ten students share an interest in music, video games, and film, but only two out of every ten colleges regularly leverage it in the classroom (NACE Staff, 2018). This makes popular culture one of the most untapped resources available to academic and career development professionals. One college employed this unique way of reaching students and shares details and hints for other institutions to follow.
Eastern Florida State College (EFSC), comprised of four campuses serving over 20,000 students annually, implemented a yearly Superhero Week event to help engage students on its Cocoa campus. During the event, students visited the Career Center to complete a personality assessment, identify their strengths, discover possible career preferences, and receive a list of superheroes that shared their personality type.
By leveraging superheroes from popular culture, this event created meaningful connections between Career Center personnel and students through shared interests (Flakes, 2018). Delivering career-oriented personality assessments via the familiar guise of superhero characters reduced anxiety in students who had never visited the Career Center, encouraging them to leverage further professional development resources. Lastly, the shared appreciation of pop culture characters led many students to invite friends to the event while expressing feelings of belonging in the superhero-themed space.
Superhero Week echoed EFSC’s mission to create a “sense of belonging” while helping “all those served achieve higher levels of success and satisfaction” (EFSC, 2022). To help students achieve their professional development goals, the event:
- Connected underserved and first-time students with Career Center services
- Created meaningful connections between students and Career Center Coordinators
- Provided students with tools to help them identify potential careers pathways
- Began the process of fostering long-term relationships with individual students
The Personality Assessment
The Career Center leveraged the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Keirsey Temperament Sorter assessments through separate licenses already acquired by EFSC. The 60-question assessment required 10 minutes to complete and provided students with a four-letter preferred personality type. Following the assessment, a Career Center Coordinator reviewed the results with the student, including career matches, and provided them with a separate document containing a list of superheroes with the same personality type. Superheroes were typed by consulting online resources and selecting the most consistent ones. After finishing the assessment, students were encouraged to schedule a follow-up appointment with the Career Center for further assistance.
Flyers, posters, and sandwich board advertisements were placed at strategic locations around campus, including computer stations, elevators, library entryways, and pop culture reading lounges. All campus instructors received a digital version of the flyer via email for uploading to their online courses or distributing in class, and many instructors brought their entire class to the Career Center to participate. Social media advertisements included Instagram and Facebook, as well as an event registration page. The EFSC website homepage featured a rotating banner advertisement, as well as links from the college’s event calendar. Physical marketing included Career Center personnel dressing in superhero costumes, as well as decorating the Career Center in superhero memorabilia, such as an eight-foot sticky note mural, inflatable character, and photo backdrop.
Over 200 students participated in the event, leading to a 400% increase in weekly services offered at the Career Center on the Cocoa Campus.
Student populations served included:
- High school students planning to enroll at EFSC
- Underserved students drawn by the pop culture framework of the event
- Students referred from friends who had previously participated in the event
- Previously established students encouraged to continue receiving Career Center assistance
Feedback from students included:
- “Thank you for not judging me.”
- “I feel so at home here. I have that same superhero poster in my room!”
- “This was so fun! I’m going to bring my friend/prop/costume tomorrow!”
The event’s success has encouraged EFSC to consider further inclusion of pop culture in the following ways:
- Hosting a similar event about video games, played by 70% of college students (Jones, 2003)
- Placing pop culture memorabilia in the office to help break down barriers with students
- Featuring advertisements focused on careers in pop culture
- Creating remote-accessible versions of pop culture events to encourage greater participation
Guide to Hosting a Superhero Week Event
To create a similar event, consider the following:
- Time the event around pop culture-related milestones, such as a major movie release week
- Choose a personality-related assessment, preferably one that is free and available online
- Consult with online resources to identify superheroes for each personality type. Choose the most consistently agreed upon character/type matches. Create results sheets using your graphic design department and royalty free images.
- Consider non-traditional forms of advertising to reach underserved student populations, such as remote accessibility, QR codes, visiting classrooms, and creating posts for social media pages frequented by students.
- Create appealing decorations featuring familiar characters to encourage walk-ins.
- After the event, compile the number of assessments taken, observations of student engagement, and number of follow-up appointments created after first contact.
Creating Meaningful Connections between Students and Career Center Resources
Superhero Week encouraged students to connect with the Career Center and access professional development resources. Through connecting with students via the familiar medium of superhero characters, Career Center personnel increased feelings of belonging and decreased anxiety within students, including underserved populations. This increased the likelihood of students connecting with the Career Center for assistance in the future, empowering them toward their academic goals and enhancing their quality of life.
Eastern Florida State College. (2022). Our vision and philosophy. https://www.easternflorida.edu/discover-efsc/our-history-and-mission/our-vision-and-philosophy.cfm
Flakes, S. (2018, August 27). Start with a ‘pop’ by bringing today’s culture to the beginning of the school year. Multi-Briefs: Exclusive. https://exclusive.multibriefs.com/content/start-with-a-pop-by-bringing-todays-culture-to-the-beginning-of-the-school/education
Jones, S. (2003, July 6). Gaming comes of age. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2003/07/06/gaming-comes-of-age/
NACE Staff. (2018, July 30). Leveraging pop culture as an engagement tool. National Association of Colleges and Employers. https://www.naceweb.org/career-development/branding-and-marketing/leveraging-pop-culture-as-an-engagement-tool/
Nguyen, H. (2019, April 23). One in two Americans plan to watch Avengers: Endgame. YouGovAmerica. https://today.yougov.com/topics/entertainment/articles-reports/2019/04/23/one-two-americans-plan-watch-avengers-endgame
Images in this article are from Eastern Florida State College. Used with permission.
Casey L. Covel is an award-winning pop culture author and Career Center Coordinator at Eastern Florida State College. She earned national honors while completing her A.A. degree at EFSC, graduated with a B.A. in Human Communication through UCF, holds memberships in both Phi Theta Kappa and the National Society of Leadership and Success, and maintains Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF) certification. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.