Strengths Coaching Blog

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Building a Strengths-Based Campus

By Ken Barr Jr.

KVCC's Student Strengths Ambassadors
College students around the world, surrounded by piles of textbooks and homework, are continuously struggling to figure out and validate what they want to do after graduation. Many wonder what it would be like if someone could just tell them what to do.

Students at Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC) have the unique opportunity to have someone partner with them to help solve this dilemma. The integration of StrengthsQuest within the curriculum at KVCC has given students the resources for strengths-based personal development, which they can incorporate into their education and future careers.


Because KVCC is a two-year institution, the challenge for us was getting students to take the time to complete the StrengthsQuest assessment. We don’t have the luxury of gathering students in residence halls or other living areas. Most KVCC students travel to campus for class, then they leave.

This meant we had to gain access into the classrooms and infuse strengths in the curriculum. I contacted professors and told them what we could offer them -- a way to help each student learn more efficiently with their strengths. Without twisting any arms, we explained to professors how our strengths program would benefit their students. Some were interested, and some were not. What started out as three professors using strengths in their classrooms, turned into more than 30 professors who use it today. And they all have seen the benefits.

Because strengths aren’t specific to one class, career, or individual, it’s important to incorporate them into all areas on campus, including school-to-work degrees, such as dental hygiene, auto tech, and nursing.

One of the most important things I wanted to do was to dedicate the sole purpose of my job to strengths development. If institutions try to give this task to their career services departments, those departments would only be able to commit a fraction of their time to it. By dedicating an entire department to developing students’ strengths, the impact is enormous. If you give 100%, you’ll get 100%.

Our approach to “selling” the notion of strength to Kalamazoo Valley students is simple. We use a peer education model, employing three student strengths coaches, who we like to call Student Strengths Ambassadors. These students go through a rigorous strengths “boot camp” before they are deemed ready to help their fellow students discover, develop, and apply their strengths.

It’s one thing for a faculty or staff member to tell a college student to take an assessment that informs them of what their strengths are. But it takes on a whole new merit when that same message comes from one of their peers.

Along with the peer education model, we knew we had to make a brand out of strengths on campus. We told our students that this “cool” assessment was completely free to them and backed by a team of trained strengths coaches. When students began bringing in their friends and encouraging them to take StrengthsQuest, we knew we had something big. It was the beginning of a strengths revolution that was unfolding right before our eyes.

Giving students their strengths and telling them what to do with strengths isn’t enough. We have to show them what it means to use their strengths in practical situations. With the help of professors, students are given specific homework assignments, such as an essay or speech, where they hone in on one of their strengths, and talk about it in depth.

Offering a real-world practice of strengths, we give students the opportunity for employability skills development, where they learn how to put their strengths into words on resumes, cover letters, and in job interviews. We then send students out for experiential education, where they meet with someone from the community who knows the strengths language and who can show the students how they use their own strengths in a real-life career setting.

The incorporation of strengths into the curriculum at KVCC has given the students here a unique glance at the practicality of how strengths are a living, breathing component in our careers and everyday lives. More importantly, it gives our students a more confident outlook as they prepare for life beyond the classroom.

Ken is the Director of Student Strengths Development at Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC). He has worked in KVCC’s Student Success Center since its inception in January 2007. In June 2008, Ken completed Gallup’s Strengths Advocate Certification Training. In July 2009, KVCC expanded the use of strengths, choosing Ken to lead the program as its Director of Student Strengths Development.

Ken's top five strengths: Input | Maximizer | Arranger | Woo | Learner

Connect with Ken and KVCC's Student Strengths Development on Twitter and Facebook.