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Students Actualize Strengths Through Award-Winning Program

View of Cary Quad from across Stadium Avenue in the Spring

When 2020 graduates Jackie Christon and Emily Jones first took the Clifton Strengths for Students® assessment as incoming Boilermakers, neither were surprised by the results.

“Input, Achiever, Context, Intellection and Connectedness,” says Jones as she ticks off her top five Strengths themes identified by the assessment. “I feel like they describe me pretty well.”

"When I first took the test, it was my freshman year,” says Christon. “I was like yeah, this is me in a nutshell.”

Boilermakers are introduced to Clifton Strengths for Students®, an online talent assessment that helps determine where a student’s leadership skills lie, in pre-arrival information and during orientation programs. The assessment identifies each student’s Top 5 Signature Themes from a list of 34 talents.

Since Purdue began its partnership with Gallup on the myStrengths program in 2016, more than 34,000 Boilermakers have taken the assessment. During the 2019-20 school year, 2730 students participated in strengths-based workshops hosted by the Roger C. Stewart Leadership Experience at Purdue (LEAP) and the Leadership and Professional Development Initiative (LPDI) -- all of which took place beyond the scope of classroom curriculums. Additional one-on-one and group workshop sessions are administered by myStrengths coaches on campus.

The myStrengths program is funded through a donation by Roger Stewart, an alumnus and former corporate executive whose retirement led him back to Purdue. Stewart is known for his tireless work ethic and devotion to raising student achievement through professional development.

“In my opinion, one of the biggest crimes in the world is to waste talent,” says Stewart. “If we’ve got a student on campus who can do a small piece in solving world hunger or curing cancer and we don’t get that out of them, we’ve failed.”

In my opinion, one of the biggest crimes in the world is to waste talent.

With his gift, the Roger C. Stewart LEAP (Leadership Experience at Purdue) was created to provide a first-year leadership and professional development experience and the director’s position was renamed the Roger C. Stewart Director of the Leadership and Professional Development Initiative (LPDI). The position and programs are under the Vice Provost for Student Life and Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning. LPDI and LEAP promote student success by teaching undergraduates how to lead in the classroom, workplace, community and world.

The success of students like Christon and Jones are why Purdue University was recognized as a 2020 Don Clifton Strengths for Students Award winner. Purdue was selected from a small number of finalists among the more than 1,000 schools which partner with Gallup on their strengths-based strategy. Gallup specifically recognized the work of LPDI and the numerous touchpoints for students to engage with myStrengths as the outstanding components of Purdue’s program.

Both Christon and Jones began to realize how they might apply their strengths in different ways through programs offered by the Civic Engagement and Leadership Development program (CELD). Part of LPDI, CELD provides on-campus and community-based experiences for students to develop their leadership and civic identities in order to prepare them to facilitate positive change in local, national and global communities. One of these ways is through Strengths 101 workshops, which build on the initial myStrengths concepts introduced to students early in their Boilermaker careers.

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“I did the assessment leading up to my freshman year, but it was one of those things that I took and I didn’t really know what it meant,” says Jones. “But then, I did a Strengths 101 course with CELD, which explained what myStrengths was and how it would be used personally, academically and civically, which was really important to me.”

Christon also started to consider her strengths through CELD as a freshman, when she began volunteering for community service days and was introduced to more information about myStrengths through a workshop.

“They are a myStrengths-based office, so a lot of our conversations and things that we do are about learning about our own strengths and how we can work together as a team,” says Christon, who lists Achiever, Relator, Confidence, Significance and Focus as her top myStrengths themes. “We tied that into a lot of our conversations in our team meetings. What I learned from there, I applied in other places. I’m an Achiever number one, but that’s just how I am as a person already so it’s almost like an affirmation that I’m good at this and should keep doing it.”

Christon continued to apply her strengths through CELD programs as a Student Service Breaks trip leader for three years. One of Christon’s duties in the role was helping to plan a service trip to Detroit, during which she and her fellow students worked with a non-profit that addresses environmental, job security, homelessness and other issues related to poverty. Christon says her ability to use her strengths was helpful during the planning process as well as the service itself.

“That was the first time we had been to Detroit as Purdue CELD,” says Christon. “I was learning with the coordinator but also using our strengths with the participants who were coming along. I definitely learned more about myself and how I best fit in that environment. I like leading other people to help them learn about certain opportunities. Working through those challenges every year and talking with other different people with different strengths every year, and then tying it back to how we can work together with our strengths was definitely the most I used myStrengths.”

“It was definitely a learning experience to see how I can get involved in other communities once I go into a new community, what ways I can be a resource for the community, use my strengths to my advantage and to be a resource for other people too,” says Christon. “We did a lot of learning.”

It helps me imagine myself and my role within a team, contextualize all of my strengths and how I fit into a group or project.

Jones put her strengths to use on campus through Boiler Communication, the student-run public relations club in the Brian Lamb School of Communication. During the Spring 2020 semester, the organization began to expand, which brought about the opportunity for members to form new leadership roles. After speaking with her advisor and using her top myStrengths themes to consider the role she would enjoy, Jones became the director of digital innovation for the club.

“I used my strengths to formulate the position for myself,” says Jones. “I knew that role should be for learning about new technology, talking to industry professionals and finding out what they’re using and what’s applicable. Knowing that I was good at Input and wanted to understand the technology to help new work we’re doing or how we can incorporate technology into what we’re already doing.”

One common theme for Christon and Jones came in how they used their strengths to consider the roles of both themselves and others in group settings.

“It helps me imagine myself and my role within a team, contextualize all of my strengths and how I fit into a group or project,” says Jones. “Understanding other people’s strengths and what their priority is, what they bring to the table or what different approaches they can bring to a project.”

Christon adds, “Once I got into leadership positions, I thought about my strengths a lot. I thought about the best way I can go about working with this kind of person and be aware that I am an Achiever and some people aren’t like that. Knowing how to work with people played a lot into my leadership roles because I can execute. That’s what I can do. That’s what my strength is about, executing and making sure I’m getting things done and that also applies to my Focus strength too, because that keeps me on track.”

Christon and Jones have been able to apply what they’ve learned beyond Purdue. Christon is awaiting the start of her career as a management consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC, which has been on temporary hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, after graduating with a degree in organizational leadership. She previously served as a management consulting intern with the firm. Christon says being able to contextualize her myStrengths themes was an advantage in her internship role.

“I definitely used it during my internship more than anything and even in my part-time job,” says Christon. “They weren’t familiar with the myStrengths program, but being able to talk about myself and highlight my strengths was important.”

Jones says she already finds herself using her strengths in her work with the Dearing Group, a marketing and communications agency based in West Lafayette. She graduated from the Brian Lamb School of Communication with a focus in public relations. Jones says she has already seen the payoffs of her strengths in the projects she is working on.

“Research is a big part of PR, so I always rely on my Input and Achiever traits,” says Jones. “I talk a lot in interviews about how the research and little details matter to me. A company’s voice really matters and I think that connectedness and understanding your audiences and being able to connect with them in a really authentic voice matters. I’m really research and analytics heavy and that’s a strength for my team.”

Jones and Christon both say that they will continue to consider and use their strengths as their careers unfold.

“I think my biggest takeaway from myStrengths has been to not focus on what I’m doing wrong, but to embrace and build on the things I’m doing well,” says Jones. “Obviously, we all need to be self-aware and work on flaws, but we can’t try to be everything to everyone. On a team, if you’re trying to do everything, you’re not contributing in the best way that you can. myStrengths really helps to refocus on how I can really grow and become an expert or really grow at a skill.”

Visit this page to learn more about the myStrengths program at Purdue.