Luther's 'Strengths' Program Empowers Students and Enhances College Journeys

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Miriam Skrade ‘04: Individualization/Activator/Positivity/Relator/Empathy/Arranger

Megan Grimm ‘22: Woo/Communication/Individualization/Relator/Responsibility/Maximizer

A note from Miriam: I’m proud to share that the decision nine years ago to introduce CliftonStrengths at Luther College was strategic, innovative, and beneficial! The tool is accessible to all students, faculty, and staff at Luther so it has become a common language. Strengths are shared outside offices and dorm rooms and some incorporate them into their email signature. That’s not the part I’m most excited for you to hear about.

As the assistant director of the Career Center and Strengths Program coordinator, I’m most proud to share with you the impact. First is a shared mindset at Luther that comes with following the Guiding Principles of CliftonStrengths: Lead With Positive Intent, Strengths Are Not Labels, Strengths Are Neutral, Differences Are Advantages, and People Need One Another. These principles remind our community to seek the good in people, appreciate and elevate diversity, lead with curiosity and collaboration instead of judgment or comparison, and encourage us to bring our best to our environments.

Second is the opportunity for all students to unlock their top five strengths in their first semester and use that self-awareness to infuse and enhance the various aspects of their Luther journey. But you don’t have to take my word for it! I invited a current Luther senior and student worker in the Strengths Program and Career Center to share her story. You’ll hear how Strengths at Luther benefits her on teams, in the classroom, in career and major discernment, in deepening friendships, seeking and landing professional endeavors, and more.

Readers….meet Megan Grimm!

First and Lasting Impressions

I sat at my computer in my first month at Luther taking the CliftonStrengths personality assessment as part of a required health class. At the time, I had no idea the tool would have such a profound impact on my life. I clearly remember being eager to learn my own Strengths and join the fascinating conversations happening around me.

Immediately, the explanations of my Top 5 Strengths resonated with me and I excitedly shared my findings with my friends, family, and teammates. The tool is supported by decades of research in positive psychology, which means it focuses on celebrating our innate talents and the contributions we naturally bring to our environments (rather than emphasizing our shortcomings and weakness-fixing). Already, I began to feel my confidence grow as I adjusted to life away from home and my high school friends.

My early engagements with Strengths at Luther were delivered by my mentor, work supervisor, and forever friend, Miriam Skrade. Miriam breathes life into Luther’s Strengths Program with her deep knowledge of and belief in the tool, her knack for connecting with students and the Luther community at large (her alma mater after all), and the fact that her work is deeply tied to her own Strengths. Helping students discover what makes them uniquely awesome is a dream job for someone like Miriam with Individualization, Empathy, and Positivity in their Top 5!

Stronger Together

Where I used to see differences between classmates in a group project as problems that needed to be overcome, I now see the incredible advantages of working on a team where each person can offer their unique gifts in a way that makes the group’s output greater than the sum of its parts. For example, I love getting to know the people I’m working with or presenting to (Woo), listening closely to the expectations of the project (Responsibility), and enthusiastically sharing findings (Communication). I partner well with group members with my bottom Strengths who love to come up with new ideas (Ideation) and solutions to problems (Restorative).

In my Luther Works position in the Career Center, we provide strengths-based presentations, workshops, and one-on-one coaching related to leadership, teamwork, personal development, bias reduction, examining motivations and patterns, and discovering and sharing one’s unique story to employers. Each team member in the office brings something needed to the process. The Career Center director uses her Ideation and Connectedness Strengths to come up with fun and exciting ways to connect with students. Miriam then uses her Activator and Positivity Strengths to put those ideas in motion and bring energy to the new initiative. Other full-time staff members bring their Discipline, Harmony, and Analytical Strengths to keep us organized, in alignment with our mission, and data-driven. Finally, my fellow Strengths Peer Advisors and I leverage our Woo, Communication, and Strategic Strengths to promote the initiative and get students excited about what the Career Center has to offer.

Choosing a Major Is Complicated

I wanted my major to represent a lot of things: what I’m good at, my career skills and objectives, my passions, and my values. Ideally, it would also be in an energizing environment, help me make money after graduation, make my family proud, and help me meet more inspiring people.

I came to Luther planning to major in accounting, and I still am. However, there was some serious debate between that and English or identity studies (which are both ~super different~ from accounting). After sophomore year courses, engagements with various mentors, and loads of self-reflection, it became clear that several majors could check multiple of those boxes I mentioned.

After conversations with many trusted resources–remember I lead with Communication, Relator, and Responsibility–I came to refine what my academic major means to me, which unchecked boxes that could be checked elsewhere (electives at Luther and hobbies in life), and the reassurance that I was designing my life, not simply my major or my career. Side bonus: I also discovered how my Strengths are and will continue to be my drivers for not only the decisions I make, but also my decision-making process. This will hopefully help me get unstuck and overcome adversity in the future.

Telling My Story and Landing the Job

As a senior, I hold a unique appreciation for the way that Strengths has helped me prepare my job application materials and enhance my interview confidence. Engaging with my Strengths in so many facets of my Luther experience has been instrumental in helping me name what I will bring to future employers, colleagues, and environments. With evidence and authenticity, I can articulate in interviews my ability to consistently meet deadlines (Responsibility), my skills and experience in public speaking and bringing experiences to life through stories (Communication), and my ability to cultivate relationships and work collaboratively on teams (Relator). These few examples demonstrate how powerful it is to have a vocabulary for articulating one’s talents and personal brand. Miriam tells me the way I embody my Strengths and her awareness of my Strengths also made serving as a reference straightforward, joyful, and naturally aligned with my personal reflections to the potential employer.

My Favorite Humans

Even though Strengths has had a positive impact on my academic and professional endeavors, the most fulfilling and fruitful applications have been in my relationships. I am constantly asking my peers what their Strengths are because knowing a person’s Strengths gives me invaluable insight into what energizes them and how I can most effectively allow their best self to thrive (Maximizer). Learning my close friends’ Strengths has enriched my friendships by allowing me to more easily understand their experiences (Empathy) and resolve conflicts when they arise.

Understanding Strengths also helps me recognize my own biases by reminding me that other people function differently than I do. When I remember this, I am much more able to make space for my friends’ unique needs and ways of thinking. I even invested in Strengths access codes for my immediate family members so we could engage in conversations together about our findings. Fun fact: We all share the Relator and Responsibility Strengths which could help explain why we carve out intentional time together and value our close connection.

Applying the Strengths tool in this way has made it vastly easier for me to celebrate the unique gifts of each person in my life (Individualization), and my Relator Strength deeply appreciates the way it brings me closer to those I hold dear.

A final note from Miriam: It’s been my joy to support the growth of self-awareness and confidence in over a thousand students, faculty, and staff at Luther College. The common language and positive psychology mindset of this program help us to see the good in one another while also giving us space to not be all things to all people, and instead, bring our best to where it has the most benefit and invite others to do the same. In this way, we can collectively live out our charge to learn actively, live purposefully, and lead courageously—in all our distinct and dynamic forms with respect and regard for others—for a lifetime of impact.

You can follow Strengths and Career Center happenings on Facebook and Instagram at ‘Luther College Career and Life Design.’ You can also reach out to us via email at [email protected]. We would love to hear from you!

Megan and Miriam with some of their Career Center colleagues.
Miriam collaborating with Luther athletics for Strengths-based leadership development.
Students sharing their Top 5 CliftonStrengths.
Miriam and Megan

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