The First-Year Seminar
Students at Greenville College (IL) and at Eastern University (PA) are introduced to the concept of strengths identification and development during a carefully designed First-Year Seminar. These foundational three-credit courses are required of every incoming student and are designed, in part, to orient students to college life. Faculty with strong teaching evaluations and with expertise in student advising have been invited to teach these introductory courses on both campuses.
At Greenville College, this foundational course is called "COR 101" because of its role as a "Cornerstone Seminar" in the College's new General Education curriculum. The course introduces students to the rigors and rewards of the college experience. Faculty from a variety of academic departments design these seminars, focusing on topics that will lead first-year students into college-level study and reflection. As students explore the seminar's topic, they develop and refine critical academic skills and the habits of mind necessary for success in college. All Cornerstone Seminars are unified through their pursuit of common educational goals. The primary goal of COR 101 is to help students begin a pilgrimage of curiosity-driven, transformational learning in a Christian liberal arts community.
The StrengthsFinder, using StrengthsQuest, is introduced in COR 101. All incoming students, freshmen and transferring students are provided a copy of StrengthsQuest , a text written specifically for college students by Dr. Edward "Chip" Anderson and Dr. Donald O. Clifton in which an ID code allows them access to the StrengthsFinder assessment. The student is encouraged to complete the assessment early in the semester. Each faculty member teaching COR 101 is asked to dedicate at least three class sessions to the topic of student's strengths, using the StrengthsFinder results as a basis for discussion. The faculty typically requires several assignments involving the student's reflections on or comments about his/her strengths. During this time, the student's top five strengths are collected from the data base at Gallup and are recorded for use at other "Strengths" events on campus, for organizing groups in classes, data analysis, or to be provided for student's future reference.
Each section of COR 101 is limited to 16 students which allows for substantial dialogue between the professor and student, student-to-student interaction, and experimentation with a variety of teaching/learning methods and ample opportunity for discussions about the strengths of each student. The COR 101 professor also serves as the student's advisor for the first year and incorporates the student's strengths into the advising process.
More information on Greenville's General Education curriculum.
The Sophomore Year
The sophomore year is a critical time for students. With one group of students having survived their first year, the attention of the institution turns toward the next group of incoming students. Sophomores are sometimes left with "unfinished business" yet may receive little focused support from the institution. Juniors and seniors are engaged in courses related to their academic majors and are feeling "at home" in the college setting. At the same time, the incoming freshmen become the new focus of institutional attention. The project currently underway at Greenville College focuses attention on:
Offering several programs throughout the year that are specifically oriented to the interests and needs of sophomore students
Helping sophomores more fully understand their individual strengths, with practical implications as they finalize the choice of an academic major
Helping sophomores consider how their individual "strengths" relate to possible career paths and their awareness of God's "call" on their lives.
The sophomore year begins with a letter sent to all sophomores, outlining the activities for the year and explaining the emphasis the institution is putting on sophomores.
A key program, the "Sophomore Summit," is offered once each semester for sophomores; and is designed to help students better understand their strengths and to link those strengths with an understanding of vocation. At Greenville College, the "Sophomore Summit" program, usually held on a Saturday morning, has included a presentation by Dr. Rick McPeak , Associate Professor of Religion which helps sophomores relate strengths to the notion of "calling", a presentation by the Director of Career Services and small "strength specific" break-out sessions with faculty and staff.
During the Junior Year, the emphasis is on the practical application of a strengths approach to service learning and cross cultural courses in the major, and to internship experiences. Faculty members have developed and/or revised service learning courses in the major so that they are strengths-based, taking in to consideration each individual student's strengths as service sites and tasks are selected.
Seniors at Greenville College participate in the Senior Capstone course, COR 401. COR 401 is the culmination of a student's learning and experience at Greenville College . The students are challenged to use all academic skills, critical thinking and habits of mind and spirit that they have developed. Each year, there is an over-arching theme of the course with involved faculty each teaching a segment. After each large session which is attended by all students enrolled in the course, the students participate in small work groups which, in order to optimize each group, are formed based on the students' strengths. The students then complete a major project based on the theme of the class which is presented to the entire college community.
Faculty & Administrative Staff
The faculty, administrative staff and staff of Greenville College were exposed to the notion of developing a strengths-based institution even before the students. The faculty and administrative staff (plus their spouses) spent two days in August 2000 participating in a "Faculty Fall Fellowship" retreat that introduced them to the StrengthsFinder. The keynote speaker was Dr. C. Edward "Chip" Anderson, professor at UCLA and at Azusa Pacific University (CA). For a description of the foundation established for the strengths project, see the Greenville Advocate coverage of the retreat and follow-up activities in "Finding the Strengths" (October 5, 2000).
The faculty workshop at Eastern University involved a morning with Dr. "Chip" Anderson, followed by afternoon activities in which faculty took the same strengths assessment instruments that the students take. Faculty then worked in small groups to further understand how to use their strengths as they interact with students.
The staff on both campuses were introduced to the strengths concept and took the strengths instruments early in the first year of the project. At Greenville, all staff were encouraged to take the StrengthsFinder and had opportunities for in-service training led by Dr. Chip Anderson in the Fall of 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003. In addition, a staff development session was held in January 2001 with Dr. William Flanagan, Vice President for Student Affairs at Beloit College (WI). Dr. Flanagan emphasized the key role of staff welcoming and supporting students. He affirmed the strengths project as taking a "macro view that focuses on student learning and student success at the front end of the undergraduate experience."
One such event is an annual visit from "Chip" Anderson. Chip typically spends 3-4 days on campus interacting with students, faculty and staff. He attends the COR 101 classes and speaks in chapel. Additionally, he meets with faculty members to address their questions about how to use the StrengthsFinder most effectively. He has met with staff people about "job sharing" based on strengths. He also usually meets with all students one evening and discusses an issue of interest with them.
Dr. Laurie Schreiner also visits our campus on a regular basis. She meets with the faculty and staff members to discuss such topics as job satisfaction and planning for the future using StrengthsFinder.
Another such event is the Annual Spring Strengths Dinner. Each spring, the campus community gathers in the Dining Commons which is decorated with balloons and pastel table clothes for a special buffet.
Faculty and staff members choose their "favorite" strength and then volunteer to host a table labeled with that strength. As students arrive, in the Dining Commons, they fill their trays and then proceed to the tables. They choose one of their top five strengths and then engage in conversation with the person hosting that table about how he/she uses that particular strength in life. Usually students will move from one table to another to discuss more than one of their strengths and stay well past the typical dining time.