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					Concurrent - Research Session

General Information:

Program Chair: Yes

Session Topic: Research on faculty development for a strengths-based FYE curriculum
Session Title: Weaving Strengths-Based Approaches into Existing First-Year Curricula: A Lesson for
Faculty Development

Institution: Azusa Pacific University
Institution Affiliation: Private, not for profit
Institution Type: Four-year
Institution Enrollment: 5,001 – 10,000
Special Serving Institution: No
         If other, please specify:

Position Title: Professor and Chair of Doctoral Higher Education
First Name: Laurie
Last Name: Schreiner
Address: 701 E. Foothill Blvd.
City: Azusa
State: CA
Zip: 91702
Country: United States
Phone: 626-815-5349
Fax: 626-815-5408

Biographical Sketch of Program Chair:

Laurie A. Schreiner, Ph.D., is Professor and Chair of the Doctoral Programs in Higher Education at Azusa
Pacific University. She is co-author of StrengthsQuest: Discover and Develop Your Strengths in
Academics, Career, and Beyond (2006), as well as Helping Sophomores Succeed: Understanding and
Improving the Second-Year Experience (2009). Co-author of the Student Satisfaction Inventory and
numerous articles on student success, Schreiner’s research focuses on college experiences and programs
that enable students to thrive.

Audio/Visual Equipment Needed:

LCD (Data) Projector

Session Abstract:

A strengths-based approach to teaching and learning identifies the talents already within the student at
entrance to college, using them as the motivational foundation for acquiring new knowledge and skills
that lead to student engagement and success. This presentation will highlight a recently completed study
in which first-year faculty were trained to weave a strengths-based approach into their existing course
content. Participants will receive a sample of the instrument, faculty development materials, and student

Research Design:
A pretest-posttest equivalent groups study at a state university forms the basis of this presentation.
Faculty from eight sections of the first-year seminar were trained to incorporate a strengths-based
approach into their existing curriculum, for comparison to eight matched sections that did not incorporate
this approach. Four hundred students participated in the study, 200 in the strengths-based sections and
200 in the matched control sections. Students’ posttest scores on the Thriving Quotient (Schreiner, 2009)
were compared, after controlling for their pretest levels of each variable. The Thriving Quotient is a
reliable measure (α = .91) of five factors significantly predictive of student success and persistence in
college: (1) Engaged Learning, (2) Diverse Citizenship, (3) Academic Determination, (4) Positive
Perspective, and (5) Social Connectedness. Students’ GPA and persistence into the second semester were
also included as dependent variables. A multivariate analysis of covariance was conducted to compare
students’ performance on each dependent variable, after controlling for their high school GPA and pretest
scores on the Thriving Quotient. Sections of the first-year seminar were matched for course content and
students’ intended major.

Detailed Summary:

This session will focus on the successful implementation of a strengths-based approach to the first-year
experience. Research recently conducted on the implementation of a strengths philosophy in a first-year
seminar at a state university will form the foundation of the session, with the results woven throughout
the presentation. A comparison of the strengths development sections to the control sections of the
course indicated that students in the strengths development section scored significantly higher on the
Thriving Quotient (4.23 v. 4.05, p < .01) at the end of the course, after controlling for high school grades
and their pretest scores on the instrument. Specifically, three key areas appear to be impacted most by
the strengths development approach: (1) self-regulated learning, (2) perceived academic control, and (3)
recognition of the role of effort in academic performance.

The session will begin by describing the strengths-based philosophy and why it was hypothesized to help
students succeed in their first year of college. A connection to the concept of “thriving” in the first year
of college will provide participants with a theoretical framework for evaluating the success of this

Because a primary challenge for any first-year seminar is the comfort level and expertise of faculty with
course content and pedagogical strategies that may not be regularly utilized within their own disciplines,
this session will highlight the ways in which the faculty were equipped to incorporate this approach into
curricula that they had already designed. Examples of how the strengths-based approach was woven into
the existing curriculum of the first-year seminar will be provided, and specific sample materials from the
faculty training will be distributed. The emphasis of the session will be on how to incorporate this
philosophy into existing curricula and how to equip faculty to feel comfortable doing so. Research
evidence of the impact it had on first-year students will be used to demonstrate the effectiveness of this

The final aspect of the session will focus on the variety of activities that faculty utilized to introduce the
strengths philosophy to first-year students and how they taught students to invest time and effort into
developing their talents into strengths that could be applied to academic tasks. Samples of the activities
faculty used with students for community building, goal-setting, and academic success will be shared with
participants, with time for questions and answers about the study.

Implications of Research:

Three important implications for future research and practice derive from this study. Two implications are
for the practice of the first-year experience: first, that it is indeed possible to equip faculty to weave new
curricular and pedagogical approaches into their existing first-year curricula, and second, that a
strengths-based approach can positively impact first-year students’ abilities to succeed and thrive in
college. Engagement in the learning process, ability to set realistic and attainable goals that continue to
motivate students to become the persons they are capable of becoming, and building community within
the classroom were all positive affected by participation in the strengths-based sections of the first-year

The third implication is one for further research. There are very few intervention studies in higher
education because of the difficulty of randomly assigning students to condition. But through the use of
section matching, pretests, and propensity scores, a quasi-experimental study can be completed that
enables researchers to be more confident of group comparisons. Use of these strategies can strengthen
others’ research, but there remains a need for future research to conduct controlled studies of strengths-
based approaches to the first-year seminar.

Additional Presenters:


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