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Strengths Development at APU

APU has long been a leader in strengths-based education and leadership development. Fueled both by research findings and theological convictions, APU utilizes a “strengths development” philosophy in its engagement with students and staff. The strengths development approach affirms each human being’s God-given, unique talents and potential and encourages individuals, teams, and organizations to develop and use those talents in service to God and the world.

Through curriculum integration (e.g. Strengths Week), leadership training, and other student development programs, students are taught to pay attention to their unique talents and develop them into reliable strengths for high performance in the classroom, the workplace, and life. Utilizing the Gallup Organization’s CliftonStrengths assessment, students learn about their top five talents as well as the range of diverse talents embodied in the wider community.

For students interested in learning more about their strengths development, strengths coaching through the Center for Career and Community-Engaged Learning (using the Handshake platform) is available. Similarly, for education professionals interested in mastering strengths-based approaches to education and leadership, APU offers doctoral-level certifications through the Department of Higher Education.

Strengths Coaching and Programs

The Academic Success Center, in partnership with the Center for Career and Community-Engaged Learning, facilitates Strengths Coaching sessions to help students deepen their understanding and appreciation of their strengths and the strengths philosophy. Strengths Coaches partner with students to identify relevant action steps, enabling students to better leverage their talents in academic, personal, and professional settings. Through Strengths Coaching, students harness intrinsic motivations and abilities to increase performance, build capacity, and exercise effective self-stewardship. Strengths coaching and program opportunities are shared with APU students throughout the academic year. Contact [email protected] for more information.

The Strengths Philosophy

At its heart, the strengths-based approach to human development asserts that a person’s greatest potential resides within the development of his or her unique, God-given talents and drives. Research conducted by the Gallup Organization over the last 40 years confirms this belief and provides tools and frameworks for discovering, developing, and directing individual and team talents into satisfying and productive practices that enrich our world.

At APU, we bring this strengths-based approach to our work as educators with students, faculty, staff, and outside partners. We believe this serves individuals and organizations while also honoring God through effective stewardship of people’s talents.

Why Strengths Matter

  • Identifying our strengths is the key to accessing the best of ourselves in pursuing goals and overcoming challenges.
  • Strengths are not the exclusive resources of a privileged minority or select group but are available to every individual and group.
  • When we operate in our strengths, we are more likely to be actively engaged in our work and report higher degrees of happiness and satisfaction in our lives.
  • Understanding our strengths enables us to authentically affirm and value the uniqueness within ourselves and others.
  • Strengths offer us insights about how we most powerfully contribute to the workplace and the world.

Identifying Talents and Building Strengths

Strengths, as defined in the strengths movement, are more than those activities in which we’re simply “really good.” Though high performance is definitely a part of what makes a strength a strength, so is the intrinsic satisfaction and joy that the individual experiences when they are involved in the activity. When true strengths are in action, they cause the individual to “feel strong” when engaged in the activity and fuel the drive for further growth and performance in that activity.

The CliftonStrengths for Students assessment (also known as the StrengthsFinder or StrengthsQuest assessments) provides users with a shortcut for discovering their unique talents. The CliftonStrengths assessment also provides a common language and framework for understanding strengths development, which is being used internationally in business, education, and leadership sectors. (Over 22 million people around the globe have taken the assessment.)

The CliftonStrengths report provides users with their Top 5 Talent Themes, which are foundational to the development of personal strengths. Natural, or God-given, talents are unique to each individual, but every talent needs development for it to become a truly reliable strength. The relationship between strengths and talents can be illustrated as a formula:

(Skills + Knowledge + Effort) x Talent = Strength

Skills, knowledge, and the investment of effort are all necessary to develop talents into strengths, but talents are the true multipliers of investment, so they play a strategically critical role in effective strengths development.

Using and Developing Strengths

One of the most natural and fruitful ways to develop strengths is to become more intentional in applying strengths in one’s current life settings. Usually, people are already using their talents to some degree, but by raising awareness about talent usage, the benefits and growth rate will increase dramatically. For example, individuals with a high Intellection talent could leverage that ability by regularly scheduling time to think and reflect and not simply fill their days with activity. Another way to develop strengths is to acquire skills and knowledge that align with areas of natural talent. For example, learning how to construct a SWOT analysis would be a powerful way to enhance the natural talents of Strategic or Analytical by providing a tool to use while employing those strengths.

Building Strengths-Based Teams and Organizations

Many of the benefits of the strengths approach for individuals are also true for teams and organizations. When teams and organizations prioritize talent identification, talent deployment, and strengths development, increases in engagement, team morale, and productivity quickly follow. One of the noteworthy and liberating findings from Gallup’s research with teams is that nearly all high performing teams consist of members with complementary gifts working in alignment with each person’s strengths and weaknesses. Each member is a “superstar” in their own way, with leaders and managers coordinating members’ gifts rather than requiring everyone (including themselves) to be great at everything.

Doctoral-Level Certification

APU’s Department of Higher Education offers the Doctoral-Level Certificate in Strengths-Oriented Higher Education.

This certificate is designed to assist higher education leaders, practitioners, and faculty in creating, implementing, and assessing strengths-oriented programs on their campuses in order to enhance the success and persistence of their students.

Intended to deepen the knowledge of the strengths philosophy, its conceptual framework within positive psychology, and the aspects of strengths-oriented programming that contribute to positive outcomes for students, this certificate enables participants to serve their campuses more effectively as educators and leaders.

This doctoral-level certificate program may be right for you if you:

  • have a master’s degree and want to gain knowledge and expertise in a strengths-oriented approach to higher education.
  • are enrolled in another doctoral program and would like to transfer 10 units back to that program.
  • are a faculty member or an administrator who does not wish to pursue a doctoral degree in higher education, but who would like to deepen their ability to teach and lead from a strengths-oriented perspective.

Program Format

The certificate program consists of three courses, for a total of 10 doctoral units. The courses are offered together as an intensive for two weeks in January and two weeks in July on the APU’s campus in Azusa, California, where program participants join existing cohorts of doctoral students in their classes.