U considers new focus on students’ strengths

Administrators met last week to discuss a strengths-based learning approach.

by Kathryn Raddatz

Student development administrators held a conference Thursday to discuss the potential of using a strengths-based approach to enhance student engagement on campus.

“Strengths promote whatâÄôs in each student,” said Jerry Rinehart, vice provost for student affairs. “The goal is to have students be in a major and environment that has them doing what they do best.”

The strengths-based approach to learning and leadership would work to personalize education by focusing on individual talents rather than areas that need improvement.

As part of the strengths-based approach, incoming freshmen would be required to take the Clifton StrengthsFinder test for the next three school years.

The Clifton StrengthsFinder offers students an online personality assessment to determine their individual top five strengths out of 34 possible areas.

“ItâÄôs not about ignoring your weaknesses,” Office for Student Engagement Director Robin Stubblefield said. “ItâÄôs about spending more time at what youâÄôre good at naturally so these things turn into strengths.”

Many University of Minnesota students have already experienced a strengths-based approach through classes at the Carlson School of Management and the College of Education and Human Development, as well as involvement in Housing and Residential Life and greek life.

Finance sophomore Eric White said his statistics professor helped him based off of his strength test results, which proved him to be a pragmatist.

“It showed how I liked to receive information and how to break it down. [The professor] really catered to the students in each of the four categories,” White said.

GallupâÄôs StrengthsQuest program currently promotes strengths-based development at 700 campuses across North America.

Student engagement increases 20 percent when focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses, said Tom Matson, director of leadership development and programming at Gallup.

“This approach is about peopleâÄôs behaviors, and then how we can develop them,” Matson said.

Students who support converting the University to a strengths-based campus say the modified approach could help students identify career goals.

“Using the framework of my strengths, I decided on the types of places I wanted to work,” business and marketing education senior Emily Smith said.

But some question the ability to implement such individualized education within a large school like the University.

“It takes more time and you have to cater to a lot of different students rather than just doing it one way,” White said, though he added it helped him more than other approaches.

Administrators will attend a strengths and education conference in June. The University will host a Web seminar March 31 and also is planning to launch an informational website on the strengths approach.

“This is not something that can be done this year or next, but itâÄôs a first step,” Rinehart said.