#Design4Excellence: What is it, and where does it come from?


The Oxford Dictionary defines excellence as the quality of being outstanding or extremely good. Think about that. What does that mean to you?

Questions I ponder are: How does excellence show up in your life? Is it necessary? What is included in excellence when you think about it? What areas of your life exhibit levels of excellence? How much of who we are at the core shows up in our definition of excellence? How do our beliefs, morals, values, or identities show up in our definition of excellence? How do we see the greatness in others with different beliefs, morals, values, or identities than we have?

Framing Excellence

Often, we see a difference and see it as a negative rather than reframing it and seeing the positive in it. Reframing is a technique that helps us change a negative idea into a positive one that may be easier to receive or contemplate. In life design, we use this tool to help you think about your life as a wicked problem, not one that is tame with one solution, and as something that you can explore curiosities in talking with others and trying stuff out (Burnett, Evans, 2016). Our lives are challenged by an increase in digitized racism and oppressive systemic challenges that it may be hard to see the great in people, systems, or experiences. It also may be hard to see excellence in equity, justice, belonging, inclusion, and diversity. Yet, let us reframe that by finding the great in varying experiences. I look to two researchers who help me to rely on seeing the positive in us all!

How Literature Helps Us Reframe

Reframing has become helpful as a tool to see something that may not be seen as positive into a positive. In life design, reframing problems is a mindset to work on the right problem and not remain stuck (Burnett, Evans, 2016). Reframing is an excellent tool, yet it is not to be used to ignore the existing systems that cause challenges yet to elevate the possibility of moving in, through, and beyond the often perceived negative.

Furthermore, researchers Shaun Harper, Tara J. Yosso, and Patton O. Garriott help us explore reframing by creating a mindset shifting and evaluating the greatness in us.

Shaul Harper’s (2012) work guides us into viewing black and brown men in an anti-deficit approach by exploring how black and brown men excel in their academic pursuits. Many organizations or initiatives, including Johns Hopkins University’s Black Male Initiative and programming through the Center for Diversity and Inclusion’s multicultural programming, use this anti-deficit approach to elevate the excellence that exists in our black, brown, and multicultural students and leads us to resources for success rather than focusing on the lack or problems.

Tara J. Yosso’s (2005) work helps us see various ways that students of color have capital, as a previous exploration of capital was not fully inclusive of the greatness that people of color bring, as seen in her expansion of capital – community cultural wealth. Community Cultural Wealth (CCW) explores individuals’ aspirational, familial, social, navigational, linguistic, and resistant capital.

This work is further by Patton O. Garriott in 2020 when we think about creating a model that would include many stakeholders to ensure students from varying backgrounds, like our first-generation, economically marginalized (FGEM) folk, thrive in academic and career development.

These works have made an impact on students’ lived experience as seen through experiences like designing YOUR professionalism, a mentoring program centering CCM in their training and education, and 95% of respondents from a retreat knowing how their identity is an asset in their life journey.

For a student’s perspective on this, please see #Design4Excellence: The Intersection of Inclusivity and Excellence in the Professional World” by Naomi Fonseka, ’26, an Intern with Hopkins Connect.

Moving Forward – Join In

With this in mind, we wanted to continue to explore how we could create a more inclusive world for underrepresented populations and hope that every person is able to see themselves as an asset in their life journey, no matter their background, social capital, and/or experiences.

We welcome you on a journey of exploring how the community at Johns Hopkins University is exploring designing for excellence through having meaningful conversations, sharing a vision for the future, and showing how it happens. You can see this on social media using the hashtag #Design4Excellence and the Imagine Website. Blog posts will be shared discussing many aspects of stakeholders’ perspectives on imagining excellence in the workplace – which should already be inclusive of equitable experiences for all.

Happy exploration and #Design4Excellence.

See more on Handshake (students) or the Life Design Lab’s Design4Excellence YouTube Playlist, and on Twitter and LinkedIn using the #Design4Excellence. If you’d like to share your story, feel free to freely do so via the hashtag #Design4Excellence on Twitter, and/or direct message Clifton Shambry.

Explore #Design4Excellence Blog Posts

Feel free to view more about the #Design4Excellence conversation through the below Blog Posts which will include highlights of some Johns Hopkins University community members including students, staff, alumni, employers, etc.

  • The creation of Design4Excellence: To learn how we created this experience, feel free to view our first blog post.
  • Design4Excellence: What is it, and where does it come from? This post.
  • #Design4Excellence: The Intersection of Inclusivity and Excellence in the Professional World” by Naomi Fonseka, ’26, and Intern with Hopkins Connect blog post.
  • Reflections on #Design4Excellence Designing Your Professionalism: Where Your Personal Brand Meets Your Identity by Naomi Fonseka, ’26, and Intern with Hopkins Connect blog post.
  • Reflections on #Design4Excellence launch videos Coming Soon!
  • Social Media: Twitter and LinkedIn.


Burnett, B., & Evans, D. (2016). Designing your life: how to build a well-lived, joyful life. First edition. New York, Alfred A. Knopf.

Garriott, P. O. (2020). A critical cultural wealth model of first-generation and economically marginalized college students’ academic and career development. Journal of Career Development, 47(1), 80-95.

Harper, S. R. (2012). Black male student success in higher education: A report from the National Black Male College Achievement Study. Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race ethnicity and education, 8(1), 69-91.

What Others Are Saying

“People who love you for what you do, ignore them. People who hate you for what you do, ignore them. Just do your job.”

~Mos Def by way of Dr. Eric Mason, Life Design Educator

“This is a helpful resource for folks thinking about internships/jobs/the workplace. I appreciated the reminder to stay focused on strengths and skills, rather than trying to overcome/fix deficits.” 

~Emma O’Rourke-Powell, Hire Hopkins

“…in the beginning, I might have missed that equity was being reframed as excellence… the research section and description of different programs were clear and interesting to connect.
Overall I really like the angle of reframing how we look at diversity equity and inclusion..”

~Tsige Solomon, ‘ 24

“The Anti-Deficit framework sounds like Appreciative Inquiry applied within a cultural context – super fascinating! Using the “best of” an individual; their cultural pillars, their lived experiences, and unique thinking as assets to drive inclusive excellence… Awesome! That’s a journey that I hope to be lucky enough to be a part of.”

~Cyprian Yankey, Employer partner
By Clifton E. Shambry Jr.
Clifton E. Shambry Jr. Associate Director of Life Design: Diversity & Inclusion