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Building a Strengths-Based Campus: Insights From 3 Schools

Building a Strengths-Based Campus: Insights From 3 Schools

Building a Strengths-Based Campus: Insights From 3 Schools

More than 750 Gallup CliftonStrengths coaches and enthusiasts gathered in Omaha, Nebraska, in July to experience strengths-based learning and network at Gallup's inaugural CliftonStrengths Summit. More than 20% of attendees represented a school or university.

In a breakout session on "Building a Strengths-Based Campus," three speakers shared best practices about how they helped their institutions create a campus-wide strengths movement -- from gaining buy-in from school leaders and students and delivering effective messaging to developing programs and measuring outcomes.

The speakers -- from the University of Kansas (KU), Hope College and Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC) -- represented a diverse cross section of higher education institutions. Mark Pogue, executive director of the CliftonStrengths Institute at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, moderated the session.

Building Momentum on Campus

Recruiting willing staff members, building strengths programs within key institutions and enlisting student leadership groups to drive strengths among their peers are all critical factors in moving toward a strengths-based campus.

KU has been using CliftonStrengths in a variety of first-year courses for many years, including its new student orientation and a seminar for students admitted to the business school. These courses reached about a quarter of the university's incoming students.

But the tipping point to expanding strengths happened last year when KU implemented significant structural changes to its advising services, including moving from small group sessions to individual appointments.

"This change was part of a larger effort at KU to individualize the student experience," says Sarah Crawford-Parker, assistant vice provost and director of first-year experience. "Expanding strengths helped to energize these advising changes by providing advisers with an important tool to help them get to know their students."

At Hope College, fundamental support for strengths came from student and college leadership as well as fiscal support in the value and promotion of the tool on campus.

"I believe one significant tipping point was when our new director of first-year seminar (FYS) promoted [CliftonStrengths's] use to our faculty who teach the classes," says Amy Freehafer, a career counselor in the Hope College Career Development Center. "Our dean of student development [was] willing to dedicate funding so that . . . students, through their FYS class, would get to take it for free."

Hope College's student congress supported the initiatives verbally and financially, "contributing to the success and excitement that students shared around the use of the tool," Amy says.

Focusing on Student Purpose Earlier

By reaching as many students as possible across various schools and within different programs, CliftonStrengths becomes a universal language that connects students, faculty and staff members. And incorporating the tool within the initial courses that incoming freshman take ensures that students discover their strengths early when they're making decisions about specific classes or the direction of their education and future career.

Campuses also recognize the benefits of CliftonStrengths in academic advising and career services, connecting strengths to meaningful activities for students.

"We are focusing this initiative on helping students to find their purpose earlier, and advisers are playing a central role in advancing this work," Sarah says. "One of our goals is to use strengths to provide greater continuity across orientation, advising, experiential learning and career services."

Individual advising appointments are a good time to introduce strengths, Sarah says.

Hope College has increased the use of CliftonStrengths in its first-year seminar classes and is working toward 100% usage in the next two years so all students will have access early in their time at the college, Amy says.

Coaching Is Crucial

Reaching as many students as possible at multiple access points across campuses is vital in creating a strengths-based campus. But coaching students, staff and faculty is one of the most important aspects of developing strengths and helps create strengths ambassadors who will champion the cause.

"We knew that we really had something that our campus valued when other students started to refer their peers to take the assessment and receive coaching," says Ken Barr Jr., formerly with the Student Success Center at KVCC. "We knew things had really tipped when instructors started to refer other instructors to integrate strengths into their courses. When this started happening, we gave those who were interested everything they wanted: one-on-one coaching, class presentations, in-person and online training, books, handouts and more."

To scale strengths campus-wide, look to key partners -- whether they are students excited about strengths or faculty and staff -- who are invested in student well-being, retention and graduation. Find and enlist others who can share the responsibility of growing the strengths movement on campus. More ideas include:

  • Share student stories to make connections.
  • Coach staff and faculty members over coffee or in group meetings.
  • Partner with advisers and give them the tools to help them coach students.
  • Identify student partners and train them to be strengths ambassadors.
  • Invite staff members to student sessions so employees and students get to know each other.
  • Incorporate ongoing conversations about strengths across different academic units, so strengths becomes a language spoken by all.

"I think the tipping point occurs when the introduction of strengths to a campus moves from strengths identification to strengths development," Mark says. "For the most part, educators recognize that strengths empower students to be successful and reach their potential, but they quickly discover that simply taking the assessment doesn't create change. The campuses that reach a tipping point acknowledge this and work hard to implement programs that allow students to develop and apply their strengths in a variety of situations. When you hear the comments shift from the excitement of strengths as a concept to actual outcomes associated with the application of strengths, you've tipped!"

Becky McCarville's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Learner, Achiever, Responsibility, Maximizer and Input.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:

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