DEI and Clifton Strengths

Leading with Strengths & Honoring her Beliefs

Ellisa LaMotte

Dr. Ellise LaMotte is the Director of the Center for STEM Diversity at Tufts University. She has a Ph.D in Education and her research interests include STEM education, access and equity, student motivation and teaching and learning.

Her top five strengths are: Belief, Individualization, Learner, Achiever, Relator

Ellise, thank you for taking time to talk about your strengths! To get us started, tell us about your work.

I’m the Director of the Center for STEM Diversity at Tufts University. Ultimately, my job is to support underrepresented students who are in STEM majors and make sure they are persisting to degree completion. And for me it also means that I want them to have the best experience possible while they are here at Tufts.

How have your strengths guided your work and career?

I think about my Learner theme — how it got me here working at a university and completing my Ph.D. program. I honestly love to learn! Though the Ph.D. process was hard, I actually enjoyed it – even the times when I wanted to quit, I knew I still liked learning. My curiosity leads me to explore more and more. I am always thinking about how I can fortify myself. Right now, I am eager to sit in on some classes!

But I also have come to understand how much my Belief theme has influenced my life and my work. It’s my number one theme – I get that! There are things that I feel strongly about, and I don’t veer away from my beliefs.

About 11% of people have Belief in their top 5 according to the Gallup database. So, it is somewhat rare. When did you first become aware of your Belief theme? What are your deeply held beliefs?

I remember an experience in high school that had a profound impact on me and likely activated my Belief theme when a decision was made to take calculus away from the Latino and Black students. That’s when my Belief became a “thing.” In college it strengthened. I had a physics teacher who said to the handful of female students, “Why are you here? Go home to your moms and become nurses or teachers.” These were very poignant moments for me. I needed to show people that I could do the work and that I was supposed to be there.

I think some Black people have been conditioned to think they are less than. Now when I hear “Black women can’t,” I say, “I’ll show you that I can.” It has become something that drives me to help others and is certainly the focus of my work at Tufts.

Belief (1), Learner (3) and Achiever (4) together create a powerful synergy!

I think that’s right! Together they say, “I can”. Not “I can do it better than you,” but “I can.”
If something is new to me or I don’t have all the skills, I dare myself to do it. This Jedi Mind trick has really worked and pushed me to live into my beliefs.

You’re so brave and courageous! I’m thinking about those early experiences of discrimination in contrast with today, where you are clearly living through your beliefs in service of others.

I am deeply committed to helping students. Just recently, I was at a celebration at Northeastern University’s African American Institute where a student approached me. She is pursuing a Ph.D in chemical engineering. I told her “I don’t know you, but I am proud of you. You may have a lot of mentors, but I am here to support you too.” I gave her my contact information and want her to have a sounding board if and when she meets obstacles. I want her to believe that she is “the bomb-dot-com!”, meaning that she is accomplished and should be proud of all she has achieved. I now have an opportunity to give back. Another belief of mine is, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

What applications do you see for using StrengthsFinder in your work?

It was so helpful for me to take the assessment and have coaching around my strengths. When I spoke to you, I could put words around my thoughts and actions. My strengths explain my motives and created a way for me to be more aware of what helps and hinders me. I think this model would be beneficial for teams in order enhance collaborative. With that in mind, I plan to introduce Strength Finder to my team so that we can interact and work better together as a team.