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Investing in students’ academic success using StrengthsQuest

From the Winter 2012 Parent Newsletter

When I attended orientation last summer with my freshman, I heard that the U was planning to focus this year on first-year students’ strengths. My son took a strengths test, and we both thought the results fit him well. So how is it working? What’s next with these strengths?

In recent years, University faculty and staff have been introduced to StrengthsQuest (SQ). The term refers to a test and materials developed by the Gallup Organization to help individuals and organizations to explore and become better aware of their strengths.

Note: This year, all first-year students were assigned to take the StrengthsQuest before arriving on campus. Many upperclassmen have taken SQ as part of a class or for advising sessions.

What is StrengthsQuest?

Parents have often heard little about SQ. I hope the following helps.

SQ lets students know their top 5 strengths from among 34 categories. For some students, this information simply affirms what they already know. For others, it gives them a language for speaking about qualities they've only sensed intuitively or have been unaware of.

Students can use their SQ results to connect with similarly oriented students on projects and assignments, or to find students whose strengths complement their own. They can also use the results to facilitate collaborations with University faculty and staff, or to pursue academic, career, or personal goals.

I have yet to form a firm opinion on SQ. Anecdotal evidence and my own professional intuition suggest that it’s a worthwhile experiment for the University.

In a college environment, students are regularly asked to apply or express themselves, and their efforts or expressions are then evaluated. In doing so, emphasis is often placed not on what was done well, but on what wasn't or what needs to change. Evaluations often leave students discounting what they've done well.

SQ highlights students’ assets. It can serve to remind faculty and staff on our campuses that these assets exist and may at times need their assistance to shine forth.

One word comes to mind whenever students speak with me about SQ: enthusiasm! The developmental psychologist Erik Erikson said that the psychosocial goal of traditional-aged college students is to learn about their identity. This is a “horribly wonderful” process. Horrible in that it's challenging, wonderful in that it’s empowering.

Students consistently talk about how great SQ is for getting clear, defined information about themselves that resonates. They say how nice it was to have met students with shared strengths, and how SQ gave them a way to talk openly about them, bypassing social awkwardness. While the jury may still be out regarding SQ’s empirical rigor, its effectiveness at prompting engagement and conversation among students is noteworthy.

Explore StrengthsQuest with your student

For now, SQ is here to stay. Enjoy exploring it with your student. Encourage them to use it as tool for self-knowledge, empowerment, and engagement with others on campus.

Learn more

To learn more about SQ, go to the StrengthsQuest website. If you’d like to take SQ, go to the University website and follow the link, “Take Strengths at the U.”

Picture of Dr. Scott Slattery. Dr. Scott Slattery, University Counseling & Consulting Services (UCCS), addresses questions from parents of University of Minnesota students. He may be reached at 612-625-4568 or slatt008@umn.edu.

StrengthsQuest for upperclassmen

Sophomores, juniors, and seniors at the U of M who want to take the StrengthsQuest assessment have multiple options for obtaining a code. They can visit their college’s career center or make an appointment with University Counseling and Consulting Services (uccs@umn.edu) or the Office for Student Engagement (engage@umn.edu) for information.

Student in class.