skip to main content
Steps for a Successful CliftonStrengths for Students Initiative: Residence Life

Steps for a Successful CliftonStrengths for Students Initiative: Residence Life

by Tom Matson and Jennifer Robison

Story Highlights

  • Asking three important questions is critical to implementing a strategy
  • Six unique, actionable touchpoints with each student per year build a strengths culture
  • Arming RAs with the right playbook is crucial to ensure the right touchpoints occur

Colleges and universities that achieve the greatest impact with strengths and well-being initiatives strategically align CliftonStrengths for Students with their mission. For the more than 1,000 campuses and 500,000+ students thriving in these schools, strengths were never a once-and-done event. Strengths are a way of life.

But creating an immersive experience like that on campus requires intention. Successful schools have an implementation strategy that first asks and answers three fundamental questions:

  • Why incorporate a strengths and well-being initiative at this college?
  • Who are the division leaders with the greatest impact on the strategies' outcomes, and who most needs strengths-based education within those divisions?
  • How will a school map out the most effective methods for their campus' strengths strategy, and how will campus leaders know if they've succeeded?

Answering the why, who and how questions strategically and in that order is vital.

The second step -- the who question -- may seem easiest to answer. Who has the greatest effect on the strategies' outcomes? It's whoever reaches the most students, of course.

Well ... yes and no. While reach is important, the ability to create touchpoints is what makes that reach effective.

Gallup defines a touchpoint as an intentional strengths intervention or conversation. There can be -- and usually are -- innumerable strengths conversations happening on campus all the time, but they're unplanned.

Unplanned is good, but schools are at their best when they strategically map out six unique, actionable touchpoints per student per year that are integrated into pre-existing programming and aimed at the campus' strengths strategy.

Each college's needs -- and points of pain -- are different, and so each CliftonStrengths strategy will be unique to the school. For many campuses, Residence Life is a natural touchpoint for integration. Student leaders in Res Life are uniquely able to integrate CliftonStrengths into daily interactions, from the profound to the mundane. Rather than programming separate strengths-only events, Res Life leaders can make CliftonStrengths organic and connect it more intentionally with the school's strategy.

The RAs' Touchpoint Playbook

A touchpoint mindset, focused around the CliftonStrengths strategy, starts the second a student shows up on campus. To set your campus up for success, Gallup recommends establishing a residence hall strengths advisory team first. That's the best way to strategically create space for intentional touchpoint conversations.

Schools are at their best when they strategically map out six unique, actionable strengths touchpoints per student per year.

Strengths-only residence hall meetings have a limited impact. It's far better for Res Life leaders to create effective touchpoints by weaving CliftonStrengths and well-being conversations into daily life.

Here's how to do that:

Make sure each student has the opportunity to do what they do best every day. Some residence halls post a list of each student's strengths by their doors -- doing this keeps talents top-of-mind and helps students understand one another from Day One. Others start the year by connecting residents' strengths with their well-being in their fall hall meeting. Resident Advisers (RAs) can provide questions that roommates can ask one another to make sure strengths conversations take place every single day.

And it really does need to happen every day.

Gallup research found that people who used their strengths for less than three hours a day were more stressed. This group also had less energy, felt less well-rested and were a lot less likely to say they'd learned something interesting than did people who said they'd applied their strengths for more than three hours a day.

Make sure each student has the opportunity to create meaningful social interactions. Residence hall leaders can work more effectively, no matter what they hope to achieve, when they lean on strengths. One large university offers a great example -- they aligned their RA training with the university's strategy by using CliftonStrengths for Students and Gallup's well-being model to positively affect the residents' purpose, social, financial, physical and community well-being.

Because strengths offer a language to describe one's innate patterns of thought, feeling and behavior, the second we can "aim" a student's strengths at outcomes that matter, RAs have the chance to help students find opportunities that allow them to be their best.

That's especially important when it comes to building meaningful relationships with other people. When RAs factor in students' strengths they can help students find those social interactions -- and model social well-being authentically -- so students can develop healthy relationships and thriving social well-being.

Those whose social well-being is thriving, as described by the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index, can strongly agree that they have "supportive relationships and love" in their lives. Getting at least six hours of social time a day or more, research shows, is optimal for higher social well-being.

RAs can encourage students to make healthy social connections by providing strengths-based touchpoints when they're most needed. And when a campus is fully aligned with the initiative's strategy, specific faculty and staff will offer touchpoints for students, too.

And staff can provide meaningful social interactions themselves -- indeed, they really should. Research shows positive relationships with professors have a huge impact on the way students feel about college. People are 1.9 times more likely to say college "was worth the cost" if a professor "cared about them as a person." That's an important point for schools to consider when mapping out their touchpoints. When RAs share with students how important their relationships with their own professors are and help residents create a strengths-based action plan to accomplish such relationships themselves, whole careers can change for the better.

RAs have the chance to help students find opportunities that allow them to be their best. That's especially important when it comes to building meaningful relationships with other people.

Make sure each student learns what thriving physical well-being is and how to achieve it. While universities struggle to prevent alcohol issues, drug use and sexual assault on campus, staying ahead of problems can begin to feel like an RA's primary job. Instead of reacting to each crisis and focusing on the prevention of bad experiences, using CliftonStrengths can help to move the change needle.

Physical well-being is described as "having good health and enough energy to get things done daily." That requires adequate sleep and physical activity and a decent diet. Colleges can flood a student's inbox with information about healthy lifestyles but a Residence Life touchpoint, like meeting with an RA who asks authentic questions about health and choices, can mean the difference between a student suffering or thriving in their physical well-being on campus.

In high school, Morgan was an athlete who prided herself on making healthy choices, things like daily workouts and eating a plant-based diet were routine. When she started college, her RA -- who knew Morgan had Responsibility and Competition -- helped Morgan create an action plan that scheduled time at the fitness center. And she showed Morgan how to order vegan meals from the dining hall's website. That caring touchpoint started Morgan's years on campus off right and allowed her to maintain healthy choices while balancing her college transition and academic stress.

Make sure each student has the opportunity to engage in inclusive community well-being experiences. Students need a sense of inclusion, pride and security in the community in which they live -- their active involvement is essential. A healthy campus community must be socially just, sustainable and responsive to unique student needs.

RAs should always find ways to connect students with those larger university opportunities as well. Touchpoints like those can have a powerful impact -- but students don't always know where to look for the experiences they need.

And some need a nudge.

Sure, some students are enthusiastic campus participants, but others will need encouragement -- especially those who don't see any need to leave their dorm rooms. Being a part of the larger strengths community is how students learn to meld their education and their strengths in real-world situations, with important developmental opportunities and career implications.

In fact, community involvement impacts students long after they leave school: Graduates who said they were "extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations" in college were 1.6 times more likely to be engaged in their work, according to the Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey (formerly the Gallup-Purdue Index), and 1.2 times more likely to be thriving in all five elements of well-being.

What to Say and When to Say It

An intentional CliftonStrengths strategy, with a well-planned touchpoint map, is vital to creating a thriving and engaged campus. Residence Life is a likely touchpoint opportunity for campus leadership.

Residence Life touchpoints can provide students with information to help make the biggest decisions they'll ever face -- but this focus on strengths can also affect smaller ones. The smaller, daily decisions that add up to influence a person's whole life.

Though the outcomes of those decisions aren't always predictable, and that's where the unique role RAs play in a student's life can be incredibly important to a student's college experience. Res Life leaders can empower RAs to step into that role and create meaningful touchpoints by equipping RAs with the skills to know what to say and when they should say it.

Gallup can help you create a campus where students thrive:

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030