Initiative 1: Whole-Person Education

Initiative 1: Whole-Person Education

Initiative 1: Whole-Person Education

Georgia Tech graduates have a reputation for strong technical skills and initiative, but, increasingly, other twenty-first- century skills are needed for success in the workplace. The constantly changing landscape of the current job market requires skills that are developed in college and grow over the course of a professional career. The Commission found that virtually all employers consider skills such as these to be a distinguishing characteristic for long-term success. Employers look to leading colleges and universities to provide graduates who have, in addition to deep disciplinary knowledge, the following three skill types:

Cognitive Skills: problem solving, creativity, critical thinking

Interpersonal Skills: communications, teamwork, leadership

Intrapersonal Skills: adaptability, initiative, discipline, ethics, persistence

Often called T-shaped thinkers, graduates who have demonstrated abilities in these dimensions are the ones most in demand. The Commission uses the term whole-person education to describe an educational experience that develops all three skill types.

A report from the Brookings Institution titled “The ‘Great Gatsby Curve’ for Character Skills and Mobility” (Reeves 2014) reports abundant economic data to support the value of whole-person education, particularly in the United States, where these twenty-first- century skills are predictive of long-term career success and intergenerational wealth. While cognitive skills are important, by far the strongest associations are due to metacognitive skills.

It is striking that among the metacognitive skills, those associated with character traits such as curiosity, drive, optimism, and social intelligence matter most. Because these traits exert such a strong influence on the long-term success of individuals in the workplace, the Commission recommends that the Institute tackle the problem of reducing or removing inequalities in character traits by creating new learning experiences that actively develop metacognitive skills.

It is, for example, not enough to challenge metacognitive abilities by requiring students to work in design teams. Learning how to effectively work in teams would develop those skills. This might be accomplished by underspecifying the scope of a classroom project, forcing students to explore societal or ethical issues prior to making judgments about the scope or duration of the project. The projects recommended by the Commission emphasize deliberate efforts to develop these skills.

Expanding Experiential Learning

Experiential learning embeds learning in authentic and relevant contexts. By doing so, it introduces learners to the challenge of problem seeking, not merely problem solving. A goal of whole-person education is to allow students to develop the skill to not only solve a complex problem but also recognize when a problem is worth solving. The CNE Report Supplement Learning by Doing (Georgia Tech 2018e) discusses experiential learning opportunities that currently exist at Georgia Tech and recommends ways to endow those programs with the contexts needed to develop whole-person skills.

Globalization at Home

A university culture that embraces globalization enhances the whole-person skills of problem solving and critical thinking in diverse situations while encouraging multicultural collaboration and an understanding of global and ethical issues in an ever-changing world. While Georgia Tech’s study- and work-abroad programs are highly successful, more accessibility to global education will occur by expanding the presence of global education into standard campus course experiential learning situations. The CNE Report Supplement Whole-Person Development (Georgia Tech 2018h) contains recommendations for incorporating international perspectives into traditional coursework.

Professional Development of Graduate Students

The Commission recommends a sweeping approach to whole-person graduate education through professional development programs in addition to disciplinary and multidisciplinary knowledge. Master’s students in particular should develop the following: professional competencies; transferable skills such as communication, leadership, and working in teams; and research. Ph.D. candidates should learn to work in collaborative and multidisciplinary team settings to develop appreciation of the ethics/norms of the scientific enterprise; management, leadership, financial, and entrepreneurial skills; and the capacity to communicate impact of work.


Lab courses, studio and design courses, problem-based learning, and flipped classes all have elements that force students to develop skills that are cognitive, interpersonal, or intrapersonal.

Other experiences outside of a traditional classroom or lab broaden the experiences to specific contexts including coop, research and project teams, Vertically Integrated Projects (VIPs), and entrepreneurial programs such as CREATE-X as well as study abroad.

Overarching themes in the Grand Challenges and Serve-Learn-Sustain programs give ethical and societal contexts for whole-person education.

Whole-Person Curriculum
Whole-person development at Georgia Tech occurs in isolated pockets, not as part of a deliberate curriculum. The dominant STEM pedagogy in higher education is instructor-centered lecture, which emphasizes cognitive dimensions with little or no emphasis on the interpersonal and intrapersonal dimensions. The Commission recommends comprehensive teaching training on evidence-based practices, backward course design, effective group work, metacognition and reflection, and deliberate development of interpersonal and intrapersonal skills.

Metacognition embedded throughout the curriculum develops students who can self-monitor their academic progress. However, as is discussed in Part Three, innovation is required to take even these small steps.

The longer-term goal of implementing a curriculum to help students become self-aware and deliberate in their approaches to their educational and career paths should be embraced. Students have views of the world and their places in it that are formed by their life experiences. The Commission recommends the creation of spaces where learners can explore varied ideas with different perspectives.


Flashpoint is one of a number of initiatives worldwide that address these problems. Another is “The Science of Everyday Thinking,” a course at The University of Queensland (The University of Queensland 2017) which explores the nature of everyday thinking, why people believe the things they believe, how to deal with opinion change, and why expectations and emotions skew judgments. University of Queensland students learn how to evaluate claims, why human beings consistently make the same irrational mistakes, and how to make better decisions.


One such curriculum, modeled on the formative leadership training at Flashpoint, includes development in areas where self-awareness and reflection are important. For example, students in formative leadership training learn how to identify their true interests and the ways they interact with others to critically analyze their own ideas to minimize resistance behaviors. Read more in the CNE Report Supplement Formative Leadership (Flashpoint): One Georgia Tech- born Approach to Deliberately Innovative Education (Georgia Tech 2018d).

In this process, students develop listening, observational, and interpersonal skills that reveal the hidden commitments and assumptions about themselves and others that could prevent an authentic idea from moving forward. They learn to listen, reflect, and respond to ideas with sensitivity.