Strada Education Network launched its “Lessons Earned” podcast March 3, 2020 — just days before a global pandemic changed how we work, go to school, and live our lives.

Our goal was simply to start a conversation. We wanted to learn from the successes — and failures — of smart, creative people who work to help students of all backgrounds, ages, and experiences realize the full benefits of education and work. We wanted to explore bold new ideas about how to improve postsecondary education and make it more equitable, more meaningful, and more useful to learners and workers throughout their lives.

Yet given the timing and our collection of bold, innovative voices in the guest lineup, “Lessons Earned” became much more — a virtual time capsule that revealed in real time how leaders in education and the workforce evolved their thinking during a crisis they hoped to shape into an opportunity to help more students and workers.

This week Strada is preparing to launch Season 4 with a new host, Strada Impact President Ruth Watkins, a changemaker herself who left her post earlier this year as president of the University of Utah to guide how Strada research and grantmaking will help students nationwide.

This season promises new ideas, creative approaches, and bold innovations from our guests — leaders like Deborah Santiago, co-founder and CEO of Excelencia in Education and a national expert in Latino student success strategies, and Lisa Gevelber, vice president of Grow With Google, which partners with employers to serve millions of Americans without college degrees through affordable, short-term credentials that lead to well-paid careers.

Before we start talking with new guests, we wanted to reflect on what these conversations have taught us so far. With thanks to our previous guests for their thoughtful insights and their willingness to tell their stories, both personal and professional, here is a sampling of some of our most important takeaways.

We’ve also included some snippets from those conversations — because no one tells their stories better than they do:

Learn from mistakes — and celebrate and build on successes.

Freeman Hrabowski, who will retire next summer as president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, said we can’t be afraid to “look in the mirror” and examine what’s working and what’s not before deciding what to try next.

Focus on adult workers and learners.

Paul Freedman of Guild Education said this is the key to helping individuals and the companies that employ them. “College as a much more dynamic experience that is more focused on serving the needs of working adult learners who are going to school particularly for a job outcome almost all the time, that’s where the market needs to go,” he said. “While I love the traditions of higher education, I can be very tough on pushing institutions in the direction they need to go to serve the learner of the future, which is the working adult.”

Emphasize human skills.

If our not-so-distant future brings what “Long Life Learning” author Michelle Weise predicts will be a 100-year career, skills like communication and teamwork will be needed more than ever and will help us adapt, survive, and thrive.

Be intentional about closing equity gaps.

To create real equality of opportunity in education and work, Braven’s Aimée Eubanks Davis said we have to be deliberate about working through the challenges students face on campus and in their transition to a strong first job after college.

Teach students to rely on themselves.

Tony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, when asked what advice he would offer college students graduating in the midst of the pandemic and seeking to shield themselves against churn in the job market, said millennials have got this right: Their job security is their skill set. “Don’t be loyal to your employer; be loyal to your skill,” he said. “Everybody’s down on the millenials. The truth is the millenials are the first generation that have had to face the facts. … What they’ve learned is that they have to look out for themselves.

Help students find their purpose.

Reynold Verret, president of Xavier University of Louisiana, said part of the success of his HBCU and others like it is that they instill in their students a desire to give back to their community and their country. “When students study here … that higher learning they have will have meaning when they put it to the service of another person,” he said. “You are not here for yourself but for the benefit of everyone else around you. That’s very deep in our history.”

In the news from Strada