Renita Washington: Bringing CliftonStrengths to Academic Advising

An hour away from Georgia Tech at Gordon State College, deans, chairs, and classroom leaders from all across campus gather for the kick-off of a new leadership program. Tables are clustered in small groups, interactive activities are dispersed around the room, and the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafts through the room. At the center of all of the action is Dr. Renita Washington, Georgia Tech’s Academic Advising Manager in the School of Materials Science and Engineering, iPad in hand and questions at the ready to help guide these leaders on how to use strength-based language to navigate through challenging team dynamics.

Dr. Washington sees the world as a place where everyone has something unique and powerful to contribute to society. She works daily to help all people see their strengths in a way that allows them to be successful leaders in their role. Whether she’s interacting with students, faculty, or staff, she brings her passion for recognizing each person’s particular talents and cultivating excellence in individuals and teams.

Washington first became interested in the importance of effective team dynamics as an instructor for GT 1000. “I was noticing firsthand the struggles students had working in teams when it came to the course’s team project,” she says. Motivated by the desire for a better way to lead her student teams, Washington joined the Effective Team Dynamics Initiative (ETD) and became a Strengths coach and a certified facilitator of the CliftonStrengths Discovery course.

Becoming an ETD facilitator has helped Washington “introduce the students to how to work better as a team, how to resolve conflicts, and what strengths each brought to the team to do so.” She expertly guides students in acknowledging unhelpful attitudes toward group projects based on past negative experiences. She supports individuals and teams in addressing any difficulties and teaches communication and problem-solving tools to collaboratively achieve positive outcomes. “I really connect to and appreciate the way ETD helps students have a language and skills to work more effectively as a team and to work through conflicts,” she explains. Now if you walk into one of Washington’s GT1000 courses, you are sure to find the students sitting in groups discussing past sources of tension and brainstorming actionable items to avoid future problems.

Beyond the classroom, Dr. Washington shares her expertise in effective team dynamics and CliftonStrengths with Georgia Tech’s academic advisors. The positive impacts of a Strengths-based approach to academic advising are clear. “A one-size-fits-all approach to advising is not beneficial to students,” Washington emphasizes. In contrast, a Strengths-based approach helps each student discover their own unique path. As an advisor herself, Washington is the ideal candidate to lead the way in training advisors to more effectively mentor students in their academic pursuits. She has been doing this work for years and can relate to struggles advisors may face and share personal stories of how using Strengths language has empowered students.

Washington not only trains her advising staff to consider each student’s unique strengths and contexts, but also encourages advisors to let their own strengths influence their particular approach to advising. The more an advisor is in tune with her own strengths, the more effectively she can develop methods to support students. For example, drawing on her own Individualization Strength helps Washington tailor her advising to each individual student’s strengths and specific situation. As she explains it, “I lead with Individualization in my advising. I understand that finding the right personalized plan for each student helps them to more effectively persist through their academic program.”

In doing this trailblazing work, Dr. Washington plays a key role in spreading awareness about the benefits of CliftonStrengths for fostering effective team dynamics, and the results of her efforts have been incredible. The last two trainings Washington facilitated, a half day and full day workshop, trained over 88 advisors from departments all over campus! She remarks, “We’ve seen the interest grow among our advisors to continue to learn more about Strengths and also to become Strengths coaches themselves.” And tracking the positive impacts of the ETD curriculum on the teamwork process further motivates her to support students in developing productive and harmonious team dynamics: “Seeing how the students can identify past problems they’ve had while working in teams and realizing they now have tools to work better with each other is encouraging, and helps to further establish a collaborative environment.” Washington is also leading the way in applying the Strengths language in new contexts, including a dissertation group, her women’s outreach program, and supporting Strengths-based leadership in the wider University System of Georgia with partnerships such as Gordon State College’s Highlander Leadership Academy.

As the Strengths community continues to grow, Georgia Tech’s students and advisors will continue to benefit from this innovative approach to mentorship that focuses on a positive asset-based model for teamwork. With Washington’s leadership and energized commitment to the ETD Initiative, Georgia Tech is paving the way for better teaching and learning for all. Whether you’re a student, teacher, or advisor seeking to better understand yourself, how you learn and team, and how to apply your strengths in leadership roles, talk to Dr. Renita Washington. Her energized commitment to the ETD Initiative’s vision is certainly a crucial element in its continued success – we’re so glad she’s part of our facilitation team!

Want to partner with us? The Effective Team Dynamics program is still hosting virtual and socially distant in-person facilitations. You can request a facilitation via our request form.