The Strength-Based Student

strength student talent May 27, 2019

How do you provide students with the right tools to succeed?

Here’s how a panel of students who have applied the strength based student content explain how it has influenced their daily lives, as well as their future career/academic paths. The students interviewed have been part of a community program YPI (Youth Philanthropy Initiative). This program, follows the strength based student curriculum, gives students the opportunity to play a direct role in making a financial grant to a local, grassroots social service organization in their own community.  To highlight a few of the topics covered in these classes are:

  • Student orientation
  • Career development
  • Internship and interview preparation
  • Graduate school planning
  • Leadership development

Based on the students experiences with this material, we asked them: What might lead to someone being a strength based student?  Here are four students individual responses.

Nathan graduated from High School in 2014 and just graduated from college. He is currently a software developer and he comments on his experience with career development.


“I’m extremely appreciative of my time at YPI, it was really a fantastic experience for me. I'm happy to talk about everything that we learned. That's, definitely the way that we talked about things is imbued in the way that I think about the world right now. I had a job interview recently where they sent me a personality test to take and I was looking up what the personality tests was beforehand. It was this enormous list of adjectives that you are supposed to say which ones describe you. And then after you do that, there's another enormous list where it says now which ones do you need to perform in order to succeed at this job. What I personally found was that my answers to the two lists were very similar. I was pretty happy about that because I am most likely not going to need to totally be a different person at my job. I can present the strengths that I actually have. And I'm going to probably be less stressed out and have more energy to actually do the job.

Vaishnavi is currently a sophomore at the University of Tulsa. What she felt was a valuable takeaway were more focused on life skills and how to cope with the day to day experiences on Leadership development. Such as with her friends and class peers. She was not afraid to take direction and help others understand and work through stressful situations. She was able to hone in on her own clarity and direct others in the same way.

“YPI was a really big part of my high school life, and sometimes I would need to remind myself how I could actually apply that to my day to day life. So my dad, whenever I would just be very irrational about things, or just not looking at things from how a YPI student would look at it, I would vent to him about it saying things like, oh my gosh, I did this on my test. I'm super upset, or this happened in dance.  I dance outside of school and whenever I'd be upset about something I go to him and he would just cut me off and say: Use your YPI skills, and make this hand motion (bringing his fingertips together to symbolize) every time. He didn't even realize that he was doing that motion.

“A lot of my YPI friends’ parents would never be very updated on what was going on in YPI. But I talked to my dad about YPI and so he was always up to date on everything and all the skills that we've learned. He knew my StrengthsFinder results. So he was always saying to use your YPI skills and is this the way you would like react to if you were in YPI? I'd think about it and comment no, probably not. So yeah, it was huge part of my life in high school. One thing that I have worked on YPI is to just keep looking at something from multiple perspectives. It's interesting how some people in college that I've had to interact with aren't very good at that. In terms of being able to be an empath, being able to put yourself in other people's shoes. So for example in psychology there are in these two terms called dispositional attribution and situational attribution where basically if you have a problem, or somebody makes a mistake, dispositional means thinking, oh they're a horrible person, they're just doing everything wrong.  And situational would be thinking, okay, is there something going on in their life where that's causing them to make these mistakes repeatedly and do they need help? That is something that YPI teaches, that we don't automatically assume that someone made a mistake because of their personal factors. It's more of a go and understand all perspectives and all aspects of the situation, before coming to any sort of judgment. And that's something that I am easily able to do because of YPI.

“When I lived on campus last year and in my friend groups specifically, we were just going through so much conflict and misalignment. It's so easy for people to point fingers and say, you did this, or you did this. I am not the kind of person to just pinpoint something and accuse somebody by saying, That's just their personality, their rude, etc. I'm over here saying: Hey, let's look at it from a different perspective. Let’s look at it from a situation like what's going on in your life that might be affecting this area? I've had to talk to many people like that, and YPI totally taught me the skills to just be able to put yourself in other people's shoes. I feel like I wouldn't have been as enhanced in that area if I hadn't gone through YPI. YPI really teaches you how to say no to things. I have so many of my friends struggling with that to this day and planning is something that I was not very good at freshman year of high school but by the time I got out of YPI, I just had this ability to already tell what I can handle and what I cannot handle. Being able to say no to things is so important because you'll just get caught up in stress, anxiety, and all this stuff because you want to do good and you want to fulfill that commitment. But being able to analyze beforehand if you can handle it in the first place is so important. And that's where do I feel ahead compared to a lot of my peers is that I'm able to say no to a lot of things and not feel bad about it. Whereas my friends are like, I think I can do this, I think I can handle this. And then in the end they’re just worrying about, okay, can I fulfill this commitment or not? If I am looking for a group to be a part of, I'll see if I can handle it first.


Grant was a member of YPI group that graduated high school in 2017, and currently a sophomore at Tufts University in Boston studying international relations, French, and art history. He illistratutes his view on Internship and interview preparation.

“Last summer I had an internship working for Senator Elizabeth Warren in Washington DC. It was a really positive, healthy and amazing work environment, which was really unique for offices on the hill. “It pushed me intellectually and really forced me to believe what could be accomplished from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM, and the how much you could really fit into that small space of time every day.

“I'm currently the diversity officer for our student government, so that takes up a lot of my time. And then I am in Tufts dance collective, which is really fun. It's a dance collective for people who don't know how to dance. And then I am also a writing fellow so I help people at Tufts who want and help with writing and tutoring, etc.

“I think one of the most interesting things, and why I'm so passionate about YPI, is the self-awareness piece. I think a lot of people can kind of intellectually come to the value of why philanthropy would be important. What I tried to explain to a lot of administrators at Tufts in my role now is that if you want these things to work, you have to invest in them because something that's incomplete will not work. So of course it's not working or you're not funding it, or involved. Of course it's a failure right now. I think that the same goes for building good leaders and getting people who are self-aware, empathetic, and understanding. And to have that understanding of why things might not be jiving the way that they want them to is that you just have to invest in, and build in time for self-reflection, for introspection, for that kind of activity.

“I think it, it truly is just a time investment setting aside time that could be an extra lesson, or an action. We jam pack every day and I think that truly what is necessary is investing in that time. Otherwise you're not going to get people who are introspective or self-aware if you don't provide the kind of space in the structure to make that happen, or if you were just packing every day, you know, down to the minute.

“I think one of the biggest parts that's made me feel ahead, I think is something that I really relate to, is in my interpersonal relationships. I think the biggest theme that comes up is that as a result of going through the training that I did in YPI with StrengthsFinder, I really began to understand, and obviously still struggled to accept it sometimes, is that I've got one set of default ways that I approach problems, and other people have another set. So just because somebody doesn't respond to my text within the amount of time that I might take-I'm super on my phone, super on my email- because communication is really important to me. That's not how other people operate. And accepting that that's not a personal slight or that somebody approached a problem, or approached me in a way that I would never approach somebody else, that that isn't a personal thing, that is just their way of coming at a problem that is very different from my own.

“That's come up in friendships and relationships and especially in managing projects when a lot of people, especially being the diversity officer of our student government, people have really intensely emotional reactions to the way that we manage a lot of our projects and understanding that it's not personal. That having done a lot of introspection about my own strengths, and work with other people as they work through their own strengths, understanding why sometimes it feels like you're in conflict with somebody else when really it's just that your brains are working in very different ways to solve a problem, and it's not malintent but that it's really just that somebody else comes at problems very differently from you. I've been a lot less vexed than some of my friends having spent a long time thinking and learning about that in a way where a lot of times people come up with those issues in college that they haven't really come to chew on them for a long time. I have felt ahead in that way.

“I think for me it's really helped. I had a pretty strong idea of what I was passionate about and the kinds of causes that meant a lot to me and types of organizations. But also to think about specific roles within those organizations. There are a lot of different ways to support the causes that I care about. What I really came away with from YPI was knowing that, I have these strengths and that means knowing where my skills are most effective, and I'm going to be most happy doing this type of work for an organization like this. I think the most helpful part is not even just knowing that, but then on the other side, knowing I shouldn't waste my time trying to do things that are really not in my wheelhouse, and you know, it's fine if I'm like not that great at these other parts of some of the organizations and the causes that I would be drawn to when applying to work at like a big organization like the Aclu. That there are types of organizations, or departments within that organization.

“When I was applying for internships this summer I knew, it’s great to support this cause that I care about but it’s not going to be a good fit for my skills, and to save a lot of time in my life of not trying to be a fit when I have a lot to offer, and I can cut the line in a different department or in a different kind of realm where the learning curve is not going to be as huge for me because that's what comes more naturally.

Drew is a freshman at OU studying accounting and economics and former YPI member. Drew explains his experience with career development. He also explains the importance of Youth and Adult Philanthropy program.

“I want to go into management consulting. Currently I'm the academic chair for my fraternity. I coordinate grades, study hours, tutors, everything like that. Anything for people that need help with their grades. I work and the OU daily advertising. I sell advertising for all of our publications. And then I'm also, part of Sooner Scandals, which is a dance competition between different Greek houses where all the ticket sales go to a philanthropy.

“YPI helped me professionally in organization, and when you're on a team project and someone's not doing something, which is something that happened in our cohort, how to deal with that is really important. In the fall I was a part of this group Crimson Wishes, which is a make a wish affiliate. The first meeting it didn't have an agenda, and there was no organization and it took forever and I was like, oh my goodness. We’re blessed to know all the great skills to run a meeting, how to be a professional, and all of that in three years in high school. And being able to talk about YPI and all the skills I've learned helped give me my job in the OU Daily advertising department. It's helping me get an internship here as well, in consulting. Professional skills are like a huge thing in YPI

“I'm working with a business called the ICCW - center for the creation of economic wealth. I'm applying for the consulting associate, one of the consulting associate positions. This organization just seemed like another step on top of YPI and it's something I was really interested in. So I definitely see that in my life. I started emailing people to see what there was to do on campus. I had to search for people to help me get involved. I wanted to play to my strengths, and they said, oh you, you would have to come in and work with the administration to come up with a system to do that.

“I figured out what I wanted to do based on the strengths I already knew. So being able to know your strengths going in would be very helpful. But I know the infrastructure is not in place at OU to do that. I was very lucky to be in YPI to know all of these things in advance because I'd be lost without it.  

Having a college philanthropy initiative here would be awesome. A place where students would get to build those skills and become more self-aware would be super important. It's helped me a ton.

These students also understand things are not always going to be in their favor and when that happens it’s viewed as misalignment. Misalignment is the termed used when there is conflict and the situation is not gathering traction to thrive. Vaishnavi explains that sometimes it's inevitable. She states, “Whether you might have a really good group and you're really good at understanding each member of the group, sometimes there will be a lack alignment. For example, at first I thought this organization would be great for me and then I join it and I'm experiencing the lack of alignment, the skills to look at how do I get it back to alignment, and where I can still keep this on my plate?

I just got hired as a orientation leader for freshmen orientation. In the interview I think what really clicked in that interview for them and was the tipping point was because I was able to accept my flaws, really know where my strengths are and where I'd have to work on. I didn't expect that to come up in that interview but maybe talking about things honestly that you know are areas where you need more work is just as strong as talking about your strengths.”

Nathan demonstrates how he takes time to plan for when misalignment can occur.  He said “I try and make sure, that if there is a lack of alignment, to see what I can do to take extra care to make sure that there is alignment. So if I'm in a group project, I know that requires some amount of discipline to have alignment and be a good team partner, and that is the opposite of my strength. I'm very well aware of that, and so I take extra time and care to ensure that I am disciplined in that setting because I can't drop the ball. I can't just necessarily be a completely relaxed and just myself, I have to be aware of the fact that sometimes to have alignment you might be a little bit out of your comfort zone.” Nathan  recognizes group projects are not his strengths but something he can not avoid doing them.

By utilizing the principles and tools of the curriculum, these individuals are actively shaping their present and future. They were able to overcome obstacles to better prepare themselves for their academic careers, personal, and professional lives. Giving students the chance to learn something about themselves that they can apply to real life and use in any situation is life changing, and we are grateful to be a part of this process.  We are excited to see what the future holds.

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