Valparaiso University introduces CliftonStrengths Assessment

Valparaiso University introduces CliftonStrengths Assessment

Valparaiso University continues to help students prepare for life after graduation beyond academics through implementing the CliftonStrengths Assessment. This program is designed to both determine students’ strengths as well as areas of improvement to help guide them throughout their academic and professional careers.

“The CliftonStrengths inventory identifies a natural skill set that individuals are bringing to their work, to their studies, to their student leadership positions, and to their other engagements that they have,” said Assistant Vice President of Student Life Carrie Whittier.

Whittier said the university is always looking for ways to help students better prepare for the future and saw the CliftonStrengths Assessment as a perfect way for students to work on leadership skills in new and exciting ways.

“The mission of the university is to prepare students to lead and serve in church and society,” said Whittier. “That leadership piece is one that we are expanding pretty consistently on campus and really trying to engage more students, not necessarily always in traditional leadership training like workshops and programs, but getting them some additional resources and information in order to be preparing them to lead.”

When the program was first introduced, all incoming freshmen took the test prior to arriving on campus. Now, a total of six to eight touchpoints are available to first-year students so they can check in on their progress throughout the semester.

A grant through the Lilly Endowment Inc. focused on career development made it possible for Whittier and her team to purchase the assessment from the Gallup Organization. Additionally, this grant also allowed for Whittier and two other staff members to be trained on the program.

“Through that process, we then identified that we really need to be doing this for all of our students. We’re going to do it one year at a time as new students come in, so that's how we're going to onboard new students moving forward,” Whittier said.

On campus, students are first introduced to the program during Welcome Week or orientation week for new students. A 90-minute workshop on the Clifton Strengths program was given to students as part of that orientation. After students settle into living on campus, Whittier said they also expanded the program to the residence halls as well as for commuter students. As the second semester approaches, students provide their academic advisors with their test results, which allows them to better mentor them as they progress through the school year.

“We were trying to find a variety of different touchpoints to be able to really embed it into the experience so that first-year students are talking about their strengths in different settings and different places and not have it just be a one-off. We wanted it to be more fully integrated into the campus culture,” Whittier said.

She added that a great benefit to the program is that it allows students to find strengths they never knew they had or never considered a strength, which builds on their confidence and allows them to look at their college experience from different perspectives.

One activity within the program is called “Name, Pain, and Gain.” This activity allows students to put a name to their strengths, followed by a conversation on what they can do with those given strengths and what they bring to the table.

“Having the students just know and understand that, ‘Hey, these are the things I'm naturally good at. I can talk with a potential employer about that or if I'm interviewing for an internship or I'm running for an officer position. These are the things that I really bring to the table and these are naturally the things that I feel that I might bring to our team in order for our team to be successful,’” Whittier said. “That's the goal, to have students have that better language and have it be more directed for them in the things that they're good at.”

The assessment additionally looks at areas of improvement. Looking at this side of the coin lets people also see what they need in a workplace environment to be the most successful.

“We also talk about the fact that it's okay that you might not naturally bring other skills to the table because you want to find people who compliment you,” said Whittier.

Moving forward, Whittier is excited to see how the assessment advances over the years.

“It's been a really wonderful journey for us this year, and we're excited about year two for next year,” Whittier said.

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