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Focus Authors Lane & Schutts Talk About Their JCC Article

August 22, 2014

Focus Authors: Forrest Lane, Assistant Professor, The University of Southern Mississippi
Joshua Schutts, Assistant Director of Institutional Effectiveness, University of West Florida
Article in the Journal of College and Character: Predicting the Presence of Purpose Through the Self-Efficacy Beliefs of One’s Talents, 15(1), February, 2014
More About: F. Lane and J. Schutts

We offer this post as an opportunity to engage those interested in our article or the role of strengths-based research more broadly in the context of college student development.  It is important that we, as scholar-practitioners, create space for needed dialog so that we can continue to share and grow in our understanding of these topics.  We invite you to share your thoughts and look forward to the opportunity to engage with you on your perspectives.

A Need for More Strengths-Based Research

The Clifton StrengthsFinder Inventory continues to be an increasingly utilized tool among colleges and universities for identifying one’s talents.  Those unfamiliar with this inventory may want to explore the resources page for strengths educators at www.strengthsquest.com.  We believe a problem for users of this inventory is its proprietary nature, particularly as access to resources for student development initiatives are increasingly limited.  Subsequently, there is a real need to empirically demonstrate how tools such as this are connected to desired educational outcomes.

As we began our literature review, we found the peer-reviewed works of this inventory limited, particularly in the context of college student development, despite its use at over 600 schools and universities in North America.  We acknowledge the work of authors such as Shane Lopez and Laurie Schreiner on this front but found a great deal of the existing research tends to be theoretical or more focused on the inventory’s application in practice.  The empirical evidence of relationships associated between theory and desired outcomes was scarce. 

What We Found

To better inform these connections, we focused our search toward the field of positive psychology and the works of individuals such as Martin Seligman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and Charles Synder.  We began to understand that talent identification, such as the Clifton StrengthsFinder inventory, was just one piece of the puzzle.  Individuals needed to also believe in their talents (strengths self-efficacy) as well as intend to act upon them (hope).  It was this intent to act where we were able to facilitate better connections with the broader literature.  This was supported by our findings which indicated:

  • One’s intent to act upon their talents was positively related to their belief in them;
  • Higher levels of hope were associated with increased well-being and the presence of purpose in their life.

We see these findings as an asset in guiding practitioners who desire to use this inventory in their work with college students.

Unanswered Questions

The result of this work has also led us to some philosophical questions.   To our knowledge, hope is not an outcome associated with student affairs professional standards (i.e.., CAS), and we are left to wonder, why?  It seems relevant to be concerned with our motivation to act so that we as educators can foster what we seek to grow and develop.  It has been suggested that hope is “an activating force that enables people, even when faced with the most overwhelming obstacles, to envision a promising future and to set and pursue goals” (Helland & Winston, 2005, p. 43).  It is the fuel of our resolve, yet seems potentially ignored in favor of the destination.   The destination is undoubtedly important but self-awareness without an intent to act seems lacking in its transformative nature.  In this way, we see hope as a verb linking inputs with outcomes.

We continue our work with this inventory and its application in practice but also want to acknowledge some limitations and offer suggestions for future research.

  • There are at least two other scales purported to measure strengths awareness and ownership.  It is reasonable to suggest that these might proceed the self-efficacy beliefs of one’s identified talents and that relationship needs to be better understood.
  • Self-awareness is a component of socially responsible leadership, which is likely motivated by hope and the presence of purpose in one’s life.  This would support a cyclical view of hope we believe is supported by hope theory.  As such, this relationship is probably exploring in the context of other college student development frameworks.
  • Other personality type indicators (e.g., the MBTI) and talent indicators are widely available to practitioners working with college students.  How can these inputs be applied to the conceptual model presented in this study?
  • In an increasing climate of accountability, what role can strengths self-efficacy beliefs and their relationship to hope and purpose play in demonstrating the effectiveness of retention and progression outcomes in student and academic support services?
  • How might we creatively link student self-reported gains in strengths self-efficacy, hope, and purpose with intended learning in both the curriculum and co-curriculum?

Parting Thoughts

Given the wide-spread used of the Clifton StrengthsFinder Inventory, we suspect many reading this blog are likely use it in their work with students.  We are interested in knowing how you use it and why?  Is it guided by theory to practice or a fad that seems to fit within our broader mission of serving students? 

To be fair, we began utilizing the Clifton StrengthsFinder Inventory and the StrengthsQuests model years ago mostly because it was fun and peaked our intellectual curiosity.  It also seemed to resonate with students and that seemed a reasonable starting place for building relationships and creating dialog for more meaningful conversation.   Perhaps that is justification enough.  However, we think positive psychology could have a more intentional place with the scope of our work in developing students.  The challenge is in creating a space for dialog about the merits of its value, its fit within existing student development models, and the approaches for fostering related constructs such as hope.