Building a career around studying the success of individuals in their jobs and environments, Dr. Connie Rath, ’70 & ’71, received an honorary Doctor of Commerce at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln morning Commencement, May 8. As president of the Clifton Foundation, Rath helped establish and build the Clifton Strengths Institute (CSI) at Nebraska.
“Why the College of Business for the CSI? Because it’s a Start Something college,” Rath said. “We want the institute to be a hub, lab and model for students to map their futures. It’s the biggest investment for our foundation, which also includes Gallup.”
First established in 2015, the CSI started with two staff who helped students identify and develop their strengths. Today, an expanded CSI team teaches all first-year business students in Investing in Strengths (BSAD 111) and trains student coaches annually from all over the university. With many other efforts and outreach including faculty and staff, business partners and the greater community, the CSI serves as a national model for strengths-based education.
“The CSI identifies and develops future leaders, business builders and gifted entrepreneurs. We don’t just identify strengths, we stretch them,” said Dr. Tim Hodges, executive director of the CSI and assistant professor of management. “Connie Rath has been an incredible teacher, mentor and guide. She has a discerning eye for talent and has multiplied her impact through investing in others throughout her career.”
Rath earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and master’s degree in educational psychology at Nebraska. While doing so, she used her talents as a residence hall counselor and math teacher. She helped migrant workers earning their GEDs find jobs and go to college.
“I learned I could help them find jobs and go to college. I enjoy the chance to reach students at a point when they are really intent on their futures, to test the experiences that matter to them and see some student successes,” Rath said. “Every student needs to know the qualities that help them achieve – their strengths. This is a starting point to plan their career and life.”
After graduating, she developed her strengths as a high school counselor in Omaha. She then worked at SRI and Gallup continuing to help people to find their job fit. Following in her father’s footsteps, she also earned her doctorate in education.
“Education is the way I’ve approached every challenge in business. We need more school – concept and mentoring – at work and more work – experience and practice – at school,” Rath said.
The daughter of Dr. Don O. Clifton, ’48, ’49, ’59 & ’90, who graduated from Nebraska four times and taught at the university, Rath grew up in Lincoln with her three siblings – Jim Clifton, Jane Miller, ’84, and Mary Reckmeyer, ’77, ’78 & ’90. Deemed the father of strengths-based psychology due to his extensive and new research in the field, Clifton also became known as the grandfather of positive psychology and an entrepreneurial leader. Rath and family wanted to bring the institute to Nebraska, where it all started.
“Dedicated to research and education to further finding and building the strengths of young people, the Clifton Foundation started in Dad’s last years. Initially, the activity was directed to awards, chairs and scholarships,” Rath said. “I get to work with great project leaders who invest in students and help them create pathways for work. I've been leading the initiatives for the last six years and we have supported 14 cohorts of Clifton Builders in Nebraska and Washington, D.C.”
A highly selective program for entrepreneurial leaders, Clifton Builders students are challenged to create, disrupt and manage effectively. By choosing to pursue a Clifton Builders management major or minor, students learn how to build successful businesses, teams and communities and achieve higher levels of employee engagement to apply in their future positions of leadership.
“We disrupt and transform the learning environment for Clifton Builders. Then we know they will be equipped to do the same in their future careers,” Hodges said.
Although Rath resides in Washington, D.C., she often visits Nebraska to coach and guide students. A strengths coach and student marketing coordinator in the CSI, Collin Fink, ’21, first met Rath as a sophomore.
“What is so special about Connie and the rest of her family is that they didn’t just establish the CSI and walk away. They constantly supported students through their efforts. She helped launch the CliftonStrengths student organization, provided coaching sessions, attended class and visited on many occasions,” he said.
Originally from Hebron, Nebraska, Fink shared how knowing his strengths provided him with the ability to align specific tasks to what he is best at doing in order to make an impact. He utilized his strengths in serving as a campus leader and received the university’s Student Luminary Award for his efforts to lead change and advocate for others. He sees the CSI as a place of self-learning.
“Most people think you come to college to learn about other things, but my belief is that you come to college to learn more about who you are,” he said. “Thank you, Connie, for providing a place for people to feel at home. The CSI provided a community of people who support each other like no other, and it changed the direction that my college career was headed. For that, I will be forever grateful.”
Awarded her honorary doctorate at Memorial Stadium, Rath shared how it was a perfect place to celebrate the Nebraska win of finding successful and innovative ways to continue to educate students through the COVID-19 pandemic. She also believes in the power of every student.
“This last year has tested what university education can be in the future. Students will be important voices of what mattered most in a hybrid environment,” said Rath. “I appreciate the honorary degree because it inspires me to do more.”
To learn more about the Clifton Strengths Institute, visit: https://business.unl.edu/strengths.