As described in this GIFTS presentation, we utilize the Gallup StrengthsFinder inventory to foster diversity and inclusivity in our first-year Introduction to Engineering group projects. StrengthsFinder helps students better understand themselves and others, improving team communication and performance. We also use this technique to address stereotype threat. Students discover the diversity of ways each individual engineer contributes to the profession through their unique set of strengths.
The Gallup StrengthsFinder inventory reveals people’s top five strengths. These strengths describe the individual’s natural talents or dispositions: domains or environments that energize. Strengths do not describe skills such as problem solving, writing, fabricating, or computing. The thirty-four strengths fall into four domains: Influencing, Executing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking. For example, someone with the consistency strength (Executing domain) seeks balance and works to ensure fairness. We encourage students to develop their engineering skills from their unique set of strengths. While they must develop competency across all the skills required for engineering work, with strengths they should “play to their strengths.”
At the beginning of the course, students complete the Gallup StrengthsFinder inventory and learn about their unique talents. Later, they complete discover how they can leverage their strengths to improve their learning and communication. We use CATME’s Teambuilder software to form teams with students that span the different domains. They also complete assignments designed to effectively highlight the advantages of a diversity of strengths within their team and devise strategies for effective communication. Specifically, they receive training on how to understand, communicate with, and work with teammates who have varied strength profiles. Through team contracts and reflections, students recognize how their unique attributes position them for important and valuable contributions to facilitating their team’s inclusive environment. Previous research indicates that engineering students are overrepresented in the Strategic Thinking and Executing domains. Through the affirming of StrengthsFinder, rather than feeling out of place, a student possessing strengths in the Relationship Building or Influencing categories begin to view their uniqueness as an asset.
We will provide tips and references on how to implement this approach in the classroom. Additionally, we will provide student feedback revealing how they embrace their strengths and feel more confident in how they develop as an engineer.
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