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StrengthsFinder - StrengthsFinder - Project Year 2 Report

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Greenville College Summary Report to FIPSE
2001-2002 (Year II)

Supported by a three-year grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), Greenville College continued work during 2001-2002 on its goal of becoming a strengths-based campus. As a national test site for The Gallup Organization, Greenville College has incorporated the use of Gallup's web-based "StrengthsFinder" instrument in a variety of venues with students and employees.

Project Status
Year I of the project was spent establishing baseline data for evaluation, designing and refining the programs to be implemented, and beginning the campus training of faculty and staff. Activities in Year I focused primarily on first-year students; Year II added an emphasis on sophomores in an effort to combat the phenomenon known as the "sophomore slump" by helping students understand how their strengths link to an understanding of vocation and career planning. Two institutions have partnered as the primary partners on this FIPSE-funded project (Eastern University and Greenville College). Three "adapting campuses" (George Fox University, Lee University and LeTourneau University) were added during Year II, each supported by a supplemental grant from FIPSE. Highlights for Year II included two major conferences introducing the strengths-based approach to a wider audience, the development of training materials in conjunction with The Gallup Organization, and programming focused particularly on the needs of sophomores.

Goal #1: Increased awareness of strengths among students, faculty, staff and administrators.

During Year II of the project, Greenville engaged in a number of activities designed to raise awareness of strengths among students, faculty, staff and administration. Beginning with the summer "Drive In" days for incoming students and their parents, Greenville introduced the concept of becoming a strengths-based campus. All incoming students were given the book Now, Discover Your Strengths (New York: The Free Press, 2001) and took the Gallup "StrengthsFinder" instrument. In Greenville's first-year seminar courses (COR 101), syllabi incorporated at least three hours of instructional time on the StrengthsFinder, with related discussions about academic advising and career planning. All students in Greenville's "GOAL" adult degree completion program also began taking the StrengthsFinder as part of their first module. This approach has proven helpful both in re-orienting students to the world of academe and also introducing them to the colleagues in their cohort.

Two "Sophomore Summits" were hosted by Greenville (November and February) to enhance students' awareness of their strengths and to present concepts related to calling and career planning. The data collected from these events indicate that the only significant difference in strengths awareness between the treatment and the control group is that students who participated were more likely to have identified a profession, occupation or calling that will use their strengths (3.07 on a 4-point scale vs. 2.71; p<.05).

Over 20 people at Greenville were trained by The Gallup Organization to be "Strengths Coaches". Among these were several faculty members and the campus counselors, who realized the potential benefit of incorporating a strengths approach into counseling sessions with individual students. Several athletic coaches met with sophomore athletes to explore the parallels between using a strengths-based approach to athletic and academic achievement. Freshmen advisors incorporated strengths in discussions about academic planning and several administrators and staff used a strengths approach in their training and orientation of student workers.

The Residence Life Team in particular focused on incorporating a strengths approach into their work. This approach has been promoted in residence life through hall decorations and signs, hall newsletters, informal counseling, formal training and self-analysis, faculty visits to the residence halls and retreats. The Residence Life staff also focused more intentionally on a strengths approach in their annual staff retreat. Resident Chaplains were trained to incorporate the StrengthsFinder into their interaction with students; they reported having individual strengths-based interviews with about 60% of the residents.

Greenville's Honors Program offered a seminar entitled "Understanding Your Personality" that incorporated StrengthsFinder materials. Students in a religion class discussed their strengths and approached selected assignments from a strengths-based perspective. Several chapel programs during 2001-2002 were devoted to the topic of strengths and calling; the President hosted a "fireside chat" where he discussed his own strengths and the potentail impact of being a strengths-based campus. In addition, students received e-mail reminders about the strengths website and related "Student Success" strategies. Near the conclusion of the year, a "Celebrate Your Strengths" dinner was held in the Dining Commons with faculty and staff facilitating strengths-related discussions at each table.

Individuals being employed in full-time positions at Greenville are asked to complete the StrengthsFinder as part of the hiring process and discussions around individual strengths were incorporated in annual performance reviews. Two consultants, Dr. Chip Anderson and Dr. Laurie Schreiner, visited the campus during 2001-2002 to work with faculty, staff and students. Some offices on campus began considering how to become a "strengths-based" work unit in which complementary abilities and interests could contribute to more a productive and enjoyable work environment.

Finally, those attending the Alumni Reunion weekend were invited to participate in a seminar about Greenville's strengths-based approach to student success and retention. The project also received coverage in the Greenville College newspaper (The Papyrus) and in the Free Methodist denominational magazine (Light and Life).

Goal #2: Increased student satisfaction with academic advising.

Activities in Year II to strengthen advising included adding a section on student strengths to the Faculty Advising Handbook, devoting a Faculty Forum to the topic of strengths-based advising, and designating three faculty to provide special advising to sophomores who had not yet declared a major. The strengths-based approach to student advising that was begun in Year I continued to be implemented with first-year students, with COR 101 faculty serving as the advisors for incoming students. In addition, "Care Team" meetings incorporating a strengths-based approach were coordinated by the Student Development staff when students experienced academic difficulties that placed them "at risk". These meetings often included faculty members, the student's Resident Chaplain, coaches, etc. Reports indicated that these meetings had a positive impact on retention.

An analysis of the academic advising items of the Student Satisfaction Inventory indicate that satisfaction with advising among Greenville's first-year students has improved significantly since adding the strengths-based approach in 2000.

Item (7-point Likert response scale) Pre-Grant (1998-99) 2000-01
My academic advisor is approachable. * 5.15 5.86
My academic advisor is concerned about my success as an individual.* 5.52 5.86
My academic advisor helps me set goals to work toward.* 5.23 5.41

*p<.05

However, students' satisfaction with their advisor's knowledge of the requirements in their major has declined significantly since implementing this approach (5.01 vs. 5.37; p<.05), perhaps because the first-year advisor using a strengths-based approach is no longer in the student's major but is the COR 101 instructor of the class the student elected to take.

Among sophomores, there have been no significant changes in student satisfaction with advising. In fact, the scores in 2001 dropped from 2000. The SSI was administered in October and perhaps sophomores had not had sufficient exposure to their new advisors by that time. These satisfaction levels will be tracked into Year III to see if they improve.

Goal #3: Increased career certainty among sophomores.

Greenville hosted two "Sophomore Summits" during Year II (November and February) to address issues of career and calling for sophomores. The Sophomore Summit activities included hearing a professor speak about calling and career, having the Career Services Director explain the career planning process and how she could assist them, and having students meet for discussions in small groups with a faculty or staff person who had at least one of the same strengths. Lower than expected attendance (n=56) was a problem. In measuring the outcomes of the Sophomore Summit, significant positive differences (p<.05) were found in students' awareness of the campus resources to help them with career decisions (3.07 on a 4-point scale for the treatment group vs. 2.66 for the control group) and in knowing the qualifications for a career they are considering (3.17 vs. 2.74). There were no other significant differences between the two groups in career certainty or confidence with the career planning process.

Goal #4: Increased student success.

Both Eastern University and Greenville College are in the process of collecting data to measure progress toward this objective. A database is being developed that will contain the GPAs and enrollment status of all first-year student cohorts from the year prior to the grant compared to the student cohorts who have participated in the grant activities. This is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects to coordinate on each campus thus far, since it requires an enormous amount of institutional research time and personnel. Final results from this aspect of the project will not be available until the conclusion of the grant period.

Goal #5: Increased student satisfaction with career services.

The Career Services Office was heavily involved in the "Sophomore Summits" that occurred in November and February. However, the Director of Career Services shifted roles within the College at approximately at the time of the second "Summit". This position was covered on a part-time basis through the spring, with a full-time replacement hired during the summer. Because the Student Satisfaction Inventory is given in late October, last year's data preceded both of the "Summits" and this transition in the Career Services Office.

Goal #6: Increased student retention, both first-year student-to-sophomore and sophomore-to-junior years.

We have yet to see a measurable impact on retention as a result of the strengths-based approach. Greenville's retention rates have fluctuated; retention was 76.5% in 1998, 71.6% in 1999, 74.4% in 2000, and then dropped to 65.1% in 2001. In examining this unexpected decline, an analysis of the risk factors in the first-year student class indicated that Greenville had recruited significantly more "at-risk" students than in previous years. Yet Greenville's strong enrollment in Fall 2002 included a retention rate that exceeded 76%, perhaps an indicator of the project's emerging impact.

Goal #7: Increased student satisfaction with the campus climate.

Greenville's commitment to becoming a strengths-based campus has not yet resulted in measurable differences in student satisfaction with the campus climate. These data are puzzling since they are incongruent with the intuitive perceptions of faculty and staff and the verbal feedback of students in focus groups. Data from the Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI) indicate a decrease in satisfaction with many of the campus climate items and no change in others. Yet in focus groups students report that they perceive the campus staff as caring and helpful, they feel as though they are getting a quality education, they have good relationships with faculty, experience their courses as meaningful, and feel that they are learning to use their strengths to increase their productivity in classes and develop deeper relationships with others. The only negative issues reported in the focus groups centered on the campus "run-around" and some maintenance issues.

Goal #8: Dissemination of the strengths-based model to a wider audience in higher education.

Several activities occurred during Year II that served to disseminate this model program to other college and university campuses:

  • A paper on the pilot version of this grant was presented at the Positive Psychology Summit in Washington, DC in October 2001.
  • Two conferences were held: (1) A national conference on the campus of Eastern University October 26-27, 2001, entitled "Step-By-Step: A Campus-Wide Approach to Enhancing Student Strengths" that was attended by 63 participants representing 29 different colleges and universities; and (2) A training conference held in conjunction with The Gallup Organization in April of 2002 at LeTourneau University, attended by 75 persons from 18 different institutions. Both conferences were very well-received and received very high evaluations.
  • Both Eastern University and Greenville College have developed strengths websites that are linked to one another and that contain significant links to other sites, along with a strengths bibliography and information from the grant project.
  • Numerous presentations have been made by the project directors: (a) Dr. Laurie Schreiner presented a workshop on the strengths-based approach to retention at the annual Chief Academic Officers meeting of the Council of Independent Colleges in November 2001; (b) Dr. Karen Longman facilitated a roundtable discussion on a strengths-based approach to first-year programming at that same conference; (c) Dr. Laurie Schreiner presented an overview of the grant project and its preliminary impact to the staff of the Gallup Organization in February of 2002; (d) Drs. Laurie Schreiner and Karen Longman presented a workshop on "Becoming a Strengths-Based Campus" at the Critical Issues for Christian Higher Education conference in February 2002; (e) Dr. Laurie Schreiner conducted strengths-based retention and advising workshops on the campuses of Houston Baptist University, Embry-Riddle University, and Villanova University and also conducted a workshop on sophomore issues at the "Students in Transition" conference held in Chicago in October of 2002, sponsored by the Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition (University of South Carolina); (f) Dr. Laurie Schreiner and David King, Vice President for People at Eastern University, presented a workshop on becoming a strengths-based campus at the Eastern Regional conference of the College and University Personnel Association in May 2002; (g) Greenville College Student Development staff presented a workshop about the StrengthsFinder to participants of the Association of Christians in Student Development Annual Conference in June 2002; and (h) Dr. Karen Longman coordinated the use of the StrengthsFinder as a leadership development tool with the Women's Leadership Development Institute of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) in June of 2002.
  • Taylor University personnel visited the Greenville College campus for training on StrengthsFinder and becoming a strengths-based campus.

The project has begun to impact educational practices on other campuses, with over 100 universities being introduced to the philosophy during Year II of the grant through various dissemination strategies. After the October 2001 conference at Eastern University, applications were received from ten universities desiring to be considered adapting institutions under the FIPSE grant. Three of these were selected and received nominal funds in January 2002 to begin a strengths-based program: LeTourneau University (TX), Lee University (TN) and George Fox University (OR). All chose to implement StrengthsFinder and are planning to use a strengths-based approach in their first-year student programming this fall. All three sent their steering committees and additional faculty to the training at LeTourneau University and report that initial steps toward full implementation are underway.

In March of 2002 an e-mail request was sent to all institutions that had attended the strengths conference in October 2001, asking them how the strengths-based approach was making a difference on their campuses. Responses were received from 13 institutions that indicated they were either piloting or fully implementing a strengths-based approach by the Fall of 2002. More specifically, three had obtained grant funding from the Lilly Endowment to pursue a strengths-based approach, eight were using the strengths approach with incoming first-year students, four were using it in their advising system, three were using it with their student leaders, two were orienting programs toward faculty, and two had developed new courses around the strengths-based approach. The primary obstacles to full implementation of this approach that were cited by the respondents were money (mentioned by all but the Lilly grant recipients) and time for personnel to learn the approach. Respondents also cited the need for additional training and for high quality materials that address the pedagogical importance and effectiveness of the strengths-based approach.

In conclusion, both Eastern University and Greenville College are continuing their commitment to becoming strengths-based campuses. Priorities for next year will be (a) offering more opportunities for students to benefit from this strengths approach, particularly in the classroom, (b) connecting the strengths approach more intentionally to teaching and learning, (c) documenting learning outcomes through the cohort database, and (d) expanding programming to juniors and seniors. In addition, personnel from Eastern and Greenville will be more intentionally involved with the three adapting campuses to ensure that the strengths-based approach succeeds for them.