“StrengthsQuest is one of the most useful tools I’ve used in my life.  StrengthsQuest has helped me maximize my talents as well as others' talents.   Further, StrengthsQuest has given me a deeper appreciation of how individuals process information and how our strengths shape our professional careers, our personal life and our world view in general”. 

- Greg Schad - Assistant Director of Student Central

"I make use of the connections to other departments from StrengthsQuest trainings every week. I must have called known StrengthsQuest associates at least 8 times in a two-week advising period to further student registration and advisement. The connections made possible by the shared language and commitment to a strengths-based approach with StrengthsQuest absolutely benefits students, their retention, and my morale as an Onondaga faculty member. Honestly, there is a warmth and mutuality that seems to exist in my interactions with fellow strengths-oriented colleagues that have made my prior 4 years much richer and deeper. I hope to share this sense of connection where ever possible as we go forward." 

- Tina May, Human Services

“StrengthsQuest helped me understand myself better, and not just as a student. The things I learned made sense in all facets of my life including my relationships and even my parenting. I see myself through a different lens now based on my strengths and not my weaknesses. It is surprising to see these talents show up once you have a way to recognize them. After taking part in StrengthsQuest I also see the strengths of others. It has given me a better understanding of not only myself, but those around me. StrengthsQuest is definitely valuable for all students to take.”

- Abigail Klein, Enrollment Associate and Onondaga alumna

StrengthsQuest:  From Margin to Center

by Rhonda K. Reid 
Assistant Professor of English at Onondaga

As professors, we have all likely had the experience of gazing out across our classrooms over the semester and noting those students who seem to prefer to occupy the periphery of the community, students who seem more defined by their absence than by their presence.  These students may appear to lack engagement, confidence, and some present themselves as having one foot out the door already.  There are certain types of personalities or skill sets that make themselves known in the classroom and create a positive impression. These “star” students’ strengths are recognized by the teacher and the class, and thus they seem to radiate a comfortable sense of belongingness.  However, what if there were a tool that helped to turn absence into presence for a wider set of skills and strengths?  What if we could access the strengths and characteristics of the students who don’t necessarily shine in the classroom so that they too could arrive that that sense of belongingness and comfort so crucial a precondition to learning?  

Well there is such a tool, of course, and I imagine you’ve heard about it; it’s StrengthsQuest.   I have been fortunate enough to have used StrengthsQuest in the classroom for several years now in the basic writing classroom, with honors students, in a diversity course, as well as in the context of learning communities.  One of the most gratifying effects of StrengthsQuest for me as a teacher, has been to deepen my understanding and appreciation of all the students in my courses, to recognize the unique set of gifts of students who may be less forthcoming with them, and be able to access those strengths in the classroom to draw students residing on the periphery of the classroom, to the center where they belong.

Take for instance the quiet young man in the baseball hat who could have been just another “skating by guy” in English 099, until he shared with us his top StrengthsQuest strength, which was Responsibility.  His second strength was Consistency, which he explained in terms of his own experience as feeling it very important to give everyone an equal chance.  He told a story about how he had confronted a coach on the issue of fairness, perhaps realizing for the first time that his concern with justice was a unique gift he brings to a community.  Hearing this young man talk about how responsibility and consistency manifest themselves in his character reversed an impression formed by assumption.  The impression of the slacker who doesn’t care was replaced in the minds of all class members as the quiet, responsible person with an unwavering set of ethics, a person upon whom you can always rely.  Later in the semester, as we were doing a writing project with “Strengths in Action,” this student revealed that having considered his strengths, he had decided upon a major in criminal justice.  We all agreed that this was a perfect fit, and that we as members of this community, would be happy to see him in law enforcement for his reliability and fairness.   StrengthsQuest allowed us to get a sense of this quiet student and the student achieved a more nuanced sense of himself that helped him to select an appropriate major.  This is a very typical example of how StrengthsQuest functions in the classroom to create presence for students whose strengths may not always become evident in the classroom setting.

Another example that I will never forget was the young woman, a single mother and first generation college student, who walked into the classroom with frightened eyes.  In our initial icebreaker, she refused to participate.  In her introductory letter to me, she expressed a shocking sentiment: “I don’t think I’m good enough to be here.”  She had BOTH feet out the door!  Though I tried to assure her that she certainly was good enough, I found myself assuming that she would not be here long, that she was actively refusing education, and in fact her attendance dropped early in the semester. It was hard to reach out to her when she did show up, as she would never look me in the eye and really refused to participate in any way in class activities. However, she did manage to arrive on the day we were taking the StrengthsQuest survey.  She struggled mightily with the technology, but finally she printed out her results after everyone else had gone.  When I asked her how it went, she looked up and gave me the first bit of eye contact and the first smile I’d seen all semester.  I looked at her list and was surprised at what I saw:  Analytical, Intellection, Learner?  I remarked to her that she had the strengths of a true intellectual, and she said quietly, “Everybody always told me I think too much.”  Once we had shared our strengths in class, this student was perceived as the quiet class intellectual, a role that seemed to please her.  It was something we assumed about her even when she chose to be silent. Many times though, she did participate in small group settings and she consistently flashed a shy smile. Her writing skills developed nicely and her complex thinking capacity became evident. She still had educational deficits stemming from a background of non-engagement and a severe lack of confidence and support.   However, she now had a foundation upon which to stand.  I was happy to see her still at OCC  in semesters subsequent to her time in English 099.   I am fairly confident that StrengthsQuest was the right intervention at the right time to retain this student.  

While the timing is not always that fortuitous and the cause/effect relationship so clear, I could rattle off a dozen examples of students who found their place in the community of the classroom through StrengthsQuest.  Even students who have no trouble making their presence known, have the opportunity to refine their role, improve their classroom skills, and become more fully appreciated by the group.  I regularly have students who have been seen by myself and the other students as disruptive.  However, when we see they have “Woo”  (a very social, charismatic and gregarious strength) as their top strength, and “Communication” as their second, it makes us all understand why they are leaping out of their seats to participate.  What was once seen as a behavior problem is now seen as a particular intensity of strengths that only needs refinement to skyrocket that individual to a position of remarkable positive impact in a community.  (In fact, I often recommend these students take Interpersonal Communication to get that refinement in motion.)    

As teachers we all want to bring out the potential of individual students, but it is often an insurmountable challenge to see the seeds of growth that we ought to be watering.  StrengthsQuest is a nice tool that can supplement our ability to see potential so that we might draw students into a community of learners.  To learn more about StrengthsQuest or take the survey yourself, contact the Teaching Center.