Understanding Professionalism, Pivot, and Purpose — Yellow Jackets are Far Above the Average

Last fall, I heard a presentation given by Michelle Tullier, executive director of the Center for Career Discovery and Development (C2D2). Professionalism, Pivot, and Purpose are the words C2D2 is using to describe some of the desirable characteristics and qualities of our students. The three words immediately appealed to me, and when I reflected on their meaning, I was inspired by how well they describe our students.

For me, Professionalism means presence, an ability to communicate, preparedness, honesty, integrity, and propriety in dealing with others. Relative to college students everywhere I find Georgia Tech students to be highly professional when measured by those traits. I am always impressed with their preparation, poise, and clarity of messaging anytime that we get together to discuss an issue. I am also struck with how articulate they are in expressing their ideas, desires, and emotions in almost any setting. In my mind the perhaps unfair stereotype of the inarticulate college student, particularly engineers and scientists, is not generally applicable to the Georgia Tech student.

Pivot describes the ability to change directions, to be resilient, and to learn whatever is necessary to succeed in the next endeavor. Pivoting requires self-confidence and an ability to deal with difficult problems undaunted by temporary adversity. Most would agree that our students are comfortable working very hard and are well trained to solve and handle difficult and new situations.

Pivot can also mean a willingness to take risks in ways that require new approaches or knowledge, different environments, and operating outside a comfort zone. Our innovation and entrepreneurship programs are certainly providing the opportunity for our students to learn how to pivot into and within entrepreneurship roles, and they are rising to the task. Nevertheless, the willingness to stretch outside of comfort zones, to take risks, and to think beyond just getting a job (which is a good idea!) still needs to be developed further.

I interpret Purpose as having a calling that rises above the normal expectations of well-being and happiness, i.e., getting a good job, having a good family. Purpose, with a big P, is, to me, to aspire to have impact beyond our own small universes. It could involve creating well-being for many, transforming technology in the service of society, educating children or young people, helping the needy, serving the country in policy and political arenas, etc. Much of this is captured in Georgia Tech’s Serve-Learn-Sustain initiative, which, after all, is trying to be responsive to our students’ desires.

Ever since I first heard Professionalism, Pivot, and Purpose as descriptors of students’ desirable traits I have asked faculty/staff and students to rank them in order according to what they think our students do best. This unscientific survey does seem to indicate that faculty/staff and students tend to see the strengths differently.

For the most part, faculty/staff rank the traits in the order I present them here. Students, for the most part, give them in inverse order, with Purpose and Pivot alternating near the top. Certainly, dealing with the demands of Georgia Tech, the hard work, the survival skills, and their focus on successful completion give them a heightened sense of purpose and the ability to pivot.

I have been pondering why that is the case. Why, despite general agreement on the value of the traits and on how well we do in all of them, do students have a different view from faculty/staff? The only reasonable explanation I have is that faculty and staff are ranking relative to more experiences and knowledge of students at other institutions. Students, on the other hand, may be judging themselves according to what is most relevant to their own experiences.

No matter your sense of order for the characteristics of Professionalism, Pivot, and Purpose, the good thing is that independent of the answer, one thing is clear: Our students do well in all three. At Georgia Tech we are proud to foster an environment that challenges, motivates, and engages every learner. Our main mission is to educate, but that goes far beyond the classroom. There is more to career readiness than knowing how to look for a job, having good communication skills, and being a team player. Instead, education is about leadership development, nurturing a lifelong love for knowledge, taking risks, and making choices that prepare students for life after graduation.

— Rafael L. Bras


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