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Saint Vincent College Faculty Blog

Self-Efficacy and “The Little Engine That Could”

Posted by Michael Urick on Tue, Jul 9, 2019 @ 09:07 AM

I was infatuated with trains when I was a child, so it’s no surprise that “The Little Engine That Could,” the classic children’s story told since 1930 and published in several book editions by Watty Piper, was one of my favorites – and one that I now love to read to my child.

As a child, I loved that it was about a train. As an adult and researcher of organizational behavior, I love the message of the story. You might recall its most famous quote: “I think I can…I think I can…I think I can.” 

This line occurs as the little blue engine is pulling the train full of necessities (and goodies) for the children of a town over a mountain. She volunteered to do this after several other powerful locomotives refused to help. However, the little blue engine was less experienced than the others that refused – she had never been over the mountain! Yet, she believed in herself, that she would be successful in delivering the supplies to the children (and kept repeating to herself that she could). Ultimately, she was successful and the children received their food, toys and candies that the engine was pulling.

In the field of organizational behavior, a belief in oneself to accomplish a specific task is known as self-efficacy. This concept is important because it is a strong predictor of task accomplishment, which makes a lot of sense. If you don’t believe you can do a task, you won’t try! And, if you don’t try, you will obviously fail at the task.

It is true that people won’t have self-efficacy about every task and should be honest with themselves regarding the knowledge, skills and abilities that they possess or not that might be necessary to perform a job. However, we also must be confident in the gifts that we do possess to be able achieve a result, even if we haven’t done it before. In the case of the little blue engine, she had never been over the mountain but knew that she had the ability to accomplish this task.

So, the moral is, believe in yourself. This is the first step to accomplishing great things in your community, your school, your work and beyond.

Send me an email at michael.urick@stvincent.edu and connect with me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/urickmj/) and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-urick-05b775a3/). You can also leave me a comment below. I’d love to year your stories about how believing in yourself helped you to accomplish great things!


Dr. Mike Urick


Piper, W. (2005). The Little Engine That Could. Penguin.

Topics: Faculty, Michael Urick, SVC faculty, saint vincent faculty, blog, Faculty Blog, mike urick, Dr. Mike Urick, self-efficacy, The Little Engine That Could

About the Authors

Michelle Gil-Montero is an associate professor of English and director of creative writing at Saint Vincent College. She runs the visiting writers series on campus, oversees the student literary magazine, and serves as guru to aspiring poets on campus. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2007, and she has been on the Saint Vincent faculty since that year. She is an active poet and literary translator from Spanish. She is spending part of the 2016-17 school year travelling to Argentina on a Howard Foundation fellowship and Fulbright grant. 

Dr. John J. Smetanka has been a member of the full-time faculty since 1997 and currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College, a position he has held since January 2008. Dr. Smetanka has taught courses in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry and Geology as well as interdisciplinary seminars. He has published scientific research articles in physics and astrophysics journals, numerous conference proceedings and also works in science education reform and the interaction between science, technology and theology.

Jim Kellam is an associate professor of biology at Saint Vincent College and our resident ornithologist. He received his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 2003, and is taking this semester as a sabbatical. What does that mean? He'll explain in his blog posts.

Dr. Michael J. Urick is Graduate Director of the Master of Science in Management: Operational Excellence program, and Associate Professor of Management and Operational Excellence at the Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics, and Government. Dr. Urick teaches courses related to organizational behavior, human resources, culture, leadership, diversity, conflict, supply chain, operations and research methods. Professionally, Urick serves on the board of the Institute for Supply Management (Pittsburgh) and belongs to the Society for Human Resource Management and APICS. For fun, Urick enjoys music and, since 1998, has led and performed with Neon Swing X-perience, a jazz band that has released multiple albums and toured portions of the US. He enjoys watching movies, is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and also likes to fence.

David Safin, C'00, has been a lecturer in the communication department since the Fall of 2003, and has served in a variety of administrative roles since the summer of 2004. Currently, he teaches multimedia in the communication department as an assistant professor. 

Dr. Michael Krom received his Doctorate in philosophy at Emory University in 2007 and is currently the chair of the philosophy department at Saint Vincent. He has authored a book on religion and politics and continues to publish works in Catholic moral and political thought. Dr. Krom also directs the Faith and Reason summer program every summer. 

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