At Nebraska, we don’t rest on our strengths — we stretch them. Through the Clifton Strengths Institute, students do just that by discovering and developing their natural talents and determining how they can build them for success. Sit down with management major Erika Casarin to learn how the institute is helping students maximize their talent and prepare for the future.
How would you explain the Clifton Strengths Institute to someone outside the College of Business community?
The Clifton Strengths Institute (CSI) is a community of individuals who value the power of strengths. We are a proponent for personal growth and development by using the Clifton Strengths Assessment, an online tool that helps you discover what you naturally do best and where your potential lies. The CSI fulfills its mission through the Clifton Builders Program, the Student Clifton Strengths Coach Program and the BSAD 111 (Investing In Strengths) course at UNL.
Talk about why you decided to apply for the Clifton Strengths Institute.
I decided to apply for the Clifton Strengths Institute because of the fantastic experience I had while taking BSAD 111. My BSAD 111 coach, Liddy, taught me how to understand my strengths and utilize them in everyday life. Though strengths were the primary focus of our conversation, Liddy was also just someone I could open up to and a friendly face on a big campus. She was the first one who encouraged me to apply to be a coach, and it was that bit of encouragement that meant the most. Liddy saw the potential in me to be a great coach, which gave me the courage to apply. I’m forever grateful that I did — and that’s thanks to Liddy.
What is your favorite part about being a Student Strengths Coach?
My favorite part about being a Student Strengths Coach is the relationships that I get to build with my students and fellow coaches. It brings me such joy to walk with my students through their strength-discovering journey and help them actualize their hidden potential. It’s also amazing to meet other coaches who have a strengths-based mindset and who are dedicated to the development of others.
What are your top 5 Clifton Strengths and how do you integrate them into your role as a Student Strengths Coach?
My top 5 Clifton Strengths are positivity, woo, connectedness, maximizer, and communication. In all situations, I lead with my positivity. I’m equipped to bring an infectious energy to every conversation through a smile and genuine joy. Thinking positively aids me in helping students see what went right in specific situations and how to plan for success in the future. Thinking strategically through my positivity also goes hand in hand with my maximizer. I have an eye for excellence and can quickly identify the potential found in individuals or processes. I enjoy the challenge of seizing the moment and enhancing any given experience to make it as memorable as possible. I transfer this outlook when coaching students and put copious amounts of energy into ensuring that each student has a positive coaching experience.
Through my woo, I’m able to form connections with individuals from all backgrounds with ease and efficiency. I use my woo to facilitate an open environment during BSAD 111 class while also having individualized relationships with my coach team and students. My woo would be incomplete without my communication. I have a gift for conversation as well as finding the right words — written or verbal. My goal is to make my coaches and students feel heard and be a voice for all. Finally, my connectedness is the lens through which I see the world. I see individuals for the shared humanity we have and can bring comfort to ambiguity. I draw the lines between events, individuals and processes to form the bigger picture and find the underlying meaning. Because of this strength, it brings me joy to remind students of the purpose they serve and give an aerial view of the impact they create.
How will your involvement in the Clifton Strengths Institute help you in the future?
My involvement in the CSI will help me in the future as I continue to grow my strengths and build relationships with others. In becoming a coach, I’ve met selfless, intelligent and caring mentors and friends who are willing to point me in the right direction or give guidance. In understanding my strengths, I’ve also gained a competitive edge professionally as I’m able to effectively communicate what I bring to a team or organization.
What or who inspires/motivates you?
I’m motivated by the connections that we form with one another. Often, we have far-reaching visions and dreams of making a significant impact, however, these goals are seldom achieved alone. I’m inspired by the fact that the biggest aspirations are brought to fruition through collaboration with others. This path of collaborating with individuals can sometimes be difficult because it requires us to be honest with ourselves and admit that we can’t do everything on our own — that we need each other. After this revelation, it’s easier to find beauty in the gifts that others bring and work together to achieve a common goal.
Who has impacted your time at Nebraska?
Someone who has impacted my time at Nebraska has been Maria Heyen, a fellow CSI Student Strengths coach. Maria and I first became friends when we were both selected to be coaches in 2020. Maria quickly became someone I looked up to and admired for her kindness, intelligence and ambition. I quickly recognized that Maria was going places and that I wanted to tag along for the ride. Together in January of 2021, Maria and I set off to develop and establish our respective start-up businesses. We spent days together planning, strategizing and ideating our ideas. Though we were forming our own ventures, we needed the support of one another to get through the stressful days and the days we thought we were in over our heads. It brought me comfort knowing that Maria knew where my strengths lied and believed that I could accomplish the goals I set out to achieve. Without having met through the CSI, I’m not entirely sure if Maria’s and my paths would’ve crossed, but I’m so thankful that they did.
What is one piece of advice you would give an incoming College of Business student?
One piece of advice I would give an incoming College of Business student is to find a community on campus. There are so many student-led organizations that are doing amazing things around campus. Surround yourself with people you want to learn from and share a laugh with. You’ll find that these will be the same people to push you to achieve goals you didn’t think were possible for yourself.
What is something you’ve learned that will stick with you after you graduate?
Something that I’ve learned that will stick with me after I graduate is the importance of finding a balance between work and rest. It’s crucial to continue building your work ethic in college while also recognizing when it’s time to rest. Rest can look like spending time with friends, reading a book, spending time in nature, partaking in a creative hobby or anything that you enjoy. If you find yourself overworking at the expense of your health or relationships, know that it’s always possible to put your work on pause, take a breather and rest.
What do you hope to do after you graduate?
After I graduate, I’d like to continue to serve as the Founder and CEO of my business, The PALETTE Project. Through PALETTE, I would like to continue to advance our mission of creating a community mural painting experience that brings together nonprofits and for-profits, gives nonprofits the gift of art and uplifts local artists.