What’s the Difference?

Psychology professor Thomas Plante shares why one CEO likes hiring Santa Clara grads. It’s what they want to do with what they know.

What’s the Difference?

I recently attended a neighborhood event hosted by a Silicon Valley CEO and his family. When he learned that I teach at Santa Clara University he said: “Oh, I’ve hired a lot of former Santa Clara students over the years.”

After a brief pause he asked: “Do you know what the difference is between hiring Santa Clara students versus Stanford students?” Since I live close to Stanford and many of my neighbors have Stanford connections, I wondered what he was about to say. Then, he said what I’ve heard so many times: “Stanford students will tell me what they are studying and what they would like to do at my company, while Santa Clara students ask where I need help.”

The message was clear: He likes hiring Santa Clara students because they want to use their skills to help. Their efforts aren’t focused only on what they personally desire.

I’ve heard this type of comment about Santa Clara students many times. At Santa Clara we do take quite seriously our efforts to teach students to be people of competence, conscience, and compassion (i.e., the three C’s) and work with students to discern their gifts, so they can apply them to where they are most needed. Their education isn’t solely for selfish or narcissistic purposes and desires but for building a better world, one that is more just, humane, and sustainable. Matching their gifts, talents, and skills to the needs of the community and world is so much of what a Jesuit education is about.

By the way, I don’t mean to put down Stanford. Obviously, it is a remarkable institution. It is the most selective school (based on admission undergraduate acceptance rates) in the country. It is likely the world’s higher educational leader in innovation, entrepreneurship, and financial success. It has many Nobel Prize winners on its faculty, and it’s at the top of the list for most NCAA championship athletic teams. I’ve taught in the psychiatry department at its medical school as an adjunct clinical professor for more than 25 years and know the institution pretty well.

However, it is not Santa Clara by any means. At Santa Clara we highlight the Jesuit values that focus on educating the whole person in service to the larger world. A critically important distinction is that it is other-focused, not self-focused, education. This is such an important yet sometimes subtle distinction. And this educational perspective results in a very different attitude among our faculty, staff, students, and graduates. In a nutshell, it is about us, not about me.

So, attitude matters. This Silicon Valley CEO noticed and appreciated what Santa Clara does to achieve this important other-focused attitude of service. In our increasingly self-focused and narcissistic culture this attitude toward others and of service is refreshing—and it pays off as well.

Tom Plante is Santa Clara’s Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J. Professor in the psychology department. This piece originally appeared on the SCU Illuminate blog.

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