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CAPS Core Value: Self-Discovery and Exploration.


The Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) is on a mission to collaborate with businesses and the community to provide associates with an opportunity to “fast forward into their future” by learning directly from employers. The CAPS model represents a powerful example of the future of education, centering on students’ interests with a unique, immersive experience, resulting in highly-skilled, adaptable, global innovators and leaders.[1]

The CAPS model is guided by five core values that define the experience: It provides associates with Responsive, Profession-Based Learning (Pro-BL) to guide their Professional Skills Development and Entrepreneurial Mindset. But the secret ingredient to making adaptable leaders is perhaps the CAPS commitment to Self-Discovery and Exploration. As one of the five core values of CAPS, self-discovery has the power to clarify a student’s strengths and passions through exploration—and this has never been more important in our communities than it is today.

A recent Gallup Workplace article highlighted disengagement in the workplace as a real cause for concern: “In 2023, employees in the U.S. continued to feel more detached from their employers, with less clear expectations, lower levels of satisfaction with their organization, and less connection to its mission or purpose, than they did four years ago. They are also less likely to feel someone at work cares about them as a person.”[2] Sending young people into our nation’s workforce that will reverse these trends demands that we foster a sense of confidence among them through an important journey of self-discovery that leads to knowledge of the important role that they can each play. When working as part of a team, this will help them see that they are connected, not isolated, by their differences; and that they have permission to make their move in this world, using those skills and talents that come most naturally to them.

I am so grateful that I had a mentor in my life as a high school and college student that not only introduced me to a trade and some basic principles of finance and running a small business, but also helped me clarify my values and passions. I worked for a heating and air conditioning company, received my Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Universal Certification, and even married the boss’s daughter! After September 11th, 2001, I sensed a clear calling on my life to go with so many young people overseas and do what I could to help bring them back home safely. As a Marine Corps logistician, I got so much joy out of coming alongside an infantry battalion or a flying squadron and helping provide solutions to complex logistics problems. Because of the early mentorship I received in high school, I had a deep confidence that I had something to offer – tools that might be helpful in different situations.

In 2008, I found myself in Afghanistan as part of a Marine Corps infantry battalion. I was leading and supervising young convoy commanders who were every day braving the dangerous roads and trails with their truck platoons to deliver needed supplies. I rode along with them when I could, and one night I did with one of my Lieutenants and his platoon. He put me in the back of the convoy, in our wrecker/recovery truck, which provided the perfect vantage point to watch the large logistics convoy snake stealthily through the desert. I was listening over the radio as the Lieutenant made tactical decisions to vary the route, keeping our adversaries guessing, and keeping our Marines safe as they made their way to resupply an infantry platoon that was based at a faraway outpost.

As we approached our destination, a squad of Marines from the infantry platoon was patrolling outside the village and was hit by a road-side bomb. Their Navy Corpsman/medic was killed, and the other Marines in the vehicle were severely injured. We saw this happen from a ridgeline overlooking the ambush area, and I was proud as my Lieutenant quickly tasked a small team from his platoon, including me in the recovery vehicle, to render aid. He had his Corpsman treat the wounded, his platoon prepared a helicopter landing zone and evacuated them, and then they formed a wall of armored vehicles and angry Marines around the ambush site as we waited for the fire to go out in the destroyed truck. We still needed to recover our Navy comrade, our “Doc,” who had been killed, and then to finally recover the vehicle. It took all night. I won’t forget how the Lieutenant checked on each Marine throughout the night, validating sectors of fire, encouraging everyone to remain vigilant for another attack we were sure was coming—and I think most of the Marines were praying that it would come. In the end, the second attack never came. We got Doc out and called for another helicopter to send him home. As dawn was beginning to break, we lumbered into the nearby combat outpost to finally complete our mission of resupply. Though we were all sleep deprived, the Lieutenant and his Marines began preparing a hot breakfast for everyone within the compound.

I went looking for the young infantry platoon commander—a 23-year-old Second Lieutenant—and my heart ached when I saw him pacing the perimeter of his outpost alone, head held low, mourning the loss of Doc and his wounded Marines. I put my arm around him and told him that we were here to help him, however we could. I sensed he wasn’t convinced. I asked him, “What is your top logistical complaint right now, maybe I can solve it while I am here?” He looked at me unconvinced. “Okay,” he said, “You wanna help?” He pointed at a nearby container that his Marines had converted into a small operations center. “You see that air conditioner over there?  It hasn’t worked in weeks. You wanna help? How ‘bout you fix my air conditioner?”

My heart leapt. I could hardly believe it. As a matter of fact, I could help him.

I immediately went to work. Within 45 minutes I had that air conditioner humming—I even surprised myself.  There was maybe a hint of a smile, or at least the beginning of one, on the platoon commander’s face when he felt the cold air. His facial expression now said, “Well, that’s pretty good, I guess…” Coming from a Marine infantry officer, that’s all the thanks I ever needed.

In addition to professional skills, our young associates will need a toolbox of strengths that they can lean on in all circumstances. They need vocational skills and intangible values that will generate in them a deep belief that they have what it takes to do something good, even in bad situations. It is the CAPS core value of Self-Discovery and Exploration that challenges each CAPS program to incorporate a process to introduce associates to their natural strengths and passions.

A comprehensive Gallup study showed that strength-based development leads to a 10% to 19% increase in sales, 14% to 29% increase in profit, and 3% to 7% higher customer engagement. More importantly, when employees are explicitly encouraged to use their talents in pursuit of a goal, individual engagement improves (from 9% to 15%) as does team performance and the company's business metrics as well. There is a connection between strengths and engagement that's fundamental to an individual’s vocational experience. People want to perform with excellence, and a focus on strengths create the conditions that allow people to do so.[3]

Today’s CAPS directors can lean into Self-Discovery and Exploration to generate confidence among associates. Through professional skills development, fill their toolboxes with a variety of tools that they can select from. But don’t stop there—guide them through a process of self-discovery that will help them name their favorite tools by recognizing those things that they reach for most often and with the most natural skill. Through responsive, profession-based learning, we can create interactions between a variety of apparently disconnected events, people, and organizations. Through deliberate self-discovery group exercises, they will realize that those differences are complimentary and essential to a community’s success. This will generate harmony which counters mistrust and tamps down feelings of isolation or unhealthy competition. The trust and connection we make amongst our teammates will lead to the confidence to take initiative. The entrepreneurial drive to take action is the natural result of knowing that you have an important skill or talent to offer—and that your teammates and communities are counting on you to make a move. Initiative is the combination of skill and trust: confidence that you have a skill you can do well, and trust that if you miss the mark, your teammates will pick you up.

Gallup’s research has resulted in a powerful assessment tool that helps individuals navigate self-discovery through an exploration of their natural talents. While there is nothing wrong with being aware of and managing weaknesses, our greatest opportunity for success lies in building on our natural talents.

You can learn a variety of skills without spending much time in introspection, but you won’t truly know which skills naturally align with your deep values and talents without some kind of deliberate process. Without an internal journey of self-discovery, one will be tempted to see differences as liabilities, and not complementary strengths that connect communities in powerful ways. Educators are often moral authorities in the lives of young people that not only teach them knowledge and skills but also give them permission to take risks. When they stumble, and they will, it takes a moral authority to pick them up and ensure that they know they are still valued.

When I first learned of CAPS, I immediately recognized our shared values. My first direct interaction with CAPS was through the work my brother and I do as CliftonStrengths Coaches with Kaleo Coaching. While we both are primarily engaged in other vocations, we are committed to building up individuals and teams in our community for the good work that they are called to do. We have been directly partnering with St. Louis CAPS and St. Charles County CAPS since 2018 by providing Gallup CliftonStrengths assessments to associates. We do this in support of the CAPS core value of Self-Discovery and Exploration.

In a study conducted by Kaleo Coaching, St. Charles County CAPS alumni were surveyed, and the results showed a 67% increase in confidence in personal strengths and passions.[4] Of the five core values of the CAPS model, Self-Discovery and Exploration is central to any program’s success. With proper guidance, every venture out into the community and among business leaders is a pathway back into the associate’s real self—that “central inner force, common to all human beings and yet unique in each, which is the deep source of growth.”[5]

Responsive, profession-based learning that models professional skills and entrepreneurial thinking is a vehicle that will lead them to success; but the engine of that vehicle is Self-Discovery and Exploration. It’s there that our associates will filter their experiences through their own values and vision for their future, and it’s there that our associates will grow from the shared experiences with their fellow students and instructors. A personal orientation through Self-Discovery and Exploration is required to grow the confidence they will need to step out into this world with a purpose.

Contact us at if you or your organization would benefit from hearing more about CliftonStrengths, or if you’d like to know more about leading your team through strengths-based workshops to ensure your programs are promoting Self-Discovery and Exploration.

About the author: Mike is a graduate of the University of Missouri and worked for Leiber Heating and Air Conditioning as a Service Technician before joining the Marine Corps. He recently retired after twenty years of service as a United States Marine, and now provides support and services to small businesses in Saint Charles, MO. Mike is also a Gallup-certified CliftonStrengths coach on staff at Kaleo Coaching which has partnered with Saint Louis and Saint Charles County CAPS for the past several years.

[2] Harter, Jim, “In New Workplace, U.S. Employee Engagement Stagnates, January 23, 2024.

[3] Brim, Brian, “How a Focus on People's Strengths Increases Their Work Engagement,” May 2, 2019.

[4] Vincent, Dan, A Study of the Center for Advanced Professional Studies, May 12, 2022.

[5] Horney, Karen, Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-realization, January 1, 1950, p 17.


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