Partnering with Faculty to Support Career Development of Diverse Populations Using Positive Psychology and Self-Assessment
By Cathi Curen & Jennifer Henriquez
As one of the most diverse campuses in the nation with a large population of first-generation students of color, the Career Center at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), aspires to strengthen students’ self-efficacy and confidence as part of the career development process. While career readiness is a key component of post-graduation success, students at CSUDH often wait to contact the Career Center until their last semester of their collegiate journey. For this reason, one of the Career Center’s goals is to support student success within the classroom well-ahead of graduation.
On the same note, for over fifty years Richard Bolles has pronounced that, “taking an inventory of yourself will give you ‘something solid to stand on’” (Bolles & Brookes, 2022, p. 20), which coincides with the principles of positive psychology. Martin Seligman defines positive psychology as the scientific study of human strengths and virtues. Similarly, Seligman stated, “Questionnaires can measure it. Trainers can teach it. Achieving it not only makes people more fulfilled but makes corporations more productive, soldiers more resilient, students more engaged, marriages happier” (Gibbon, 2020, para. 4).
“Positive psychology is ideally suited for the task of considering one’s future identity, exploring career possibilities, and deciding how to use and direct one’s strengths and passions” (Wade et al., 2015, p. 167). In our experience, we find that students with a limited work history often feel that they are unable to compete with their more experienced peers. To this end, a study by Ingamells et al. (2013) found that students reported an increased confidence after using a strengths-based approach to recognize their talents and ability to contribute to the work world.
Positive psychology can increase students’ self-confidence through an inventory of innate talent (CliftonStrengths, 2017). Students who work with and build on their strengths tend to be more engaged and find roles suited to their individual talents, which results in a better quality of life. Though employment in industries related to their field of study is often the end-goal for students, in the interim, using self-assessment tools provides students with internal guideposts and value sets that can help them navigate their education, and ultimately, their career.
The Research on Self-assessment
Researchers have discovered that college students who take time to clarify who they are by way of self-assessments have developed increased self-confidence, direction, hope, and altruism (Gallup, n.d.). These students
- Are more likely to succeed
- Take education seriously
- Have high emotional engagement
- Advance in achievement
- Improve attendance
- Earn more credits
- Bring positive ideas and energy to the learning process
- Have higher GPAs
- Have better retention
- Are more resilient
Plan and Approach to Aid Diverse Students
To facilitate the integration of positive psychology in the classroom, we reached out to faculty partners who we knew supported professional development. In our solicitation, two faculty lecturers from the English department agreed to work in conjunction with the Career Center to introduce these methods into their Freshman Composition curriculum.
After providing a brief overview of our approach to these faculty partners, we provided resources for the professors to consider when integrating these self-assessment tools into their curriculum (e.g., reflection prompts and research). Though we provided assessment-related resources, our underlying approach was to serve in an advisory role as these faculty members developed curriculum that integrated these facets of positive psychology aligned with their classroom environments and course learning outcomes.
As the semester unfolded, we continued to serve in a consultant role for our faculty partners and established three check-in points during the semester. During these check-in points, we invited our faculty partners to share their experiences navigating the integration of these philosophies and tools in their classrooms.
Since the curriculum in these English Freshman Composition courses emphasized understanding of rhetorical concepts and writing identities, our faculty partners found a natural space for using a strengths-based self-assessment in their curriculum efforts through reflective writing assignments. Students completed an assessment at the beginning of the course and with the prompts the authors provided, these instructors were able to embed the exploratory aspects of these resources into writing assignments that endeavored students to discover and value themselves with the goal of facilitating a growing understanding of their writing identities.
For example, some of the prompts CSUDH faculty partners integrated into their classrooms included the following:
- What were your initial impressions about your strengths?
- Discuss an accomplishment or a few that you are most proud of.
- When I need to absorb or think about new information, I use these innate abilities.
As students became an expert on self, they engaged in robust writing activities that improved upon their writing skills and the community building efforts of their classroom environments. Additionally, one student noted, “A benefit of understanding my strengths is that [now] I know where I [can] succeed when writing and know where I need to work on things to become better and improve.”
Support from Positive psychology and a Strengths-based Self-assessment
Partnerships are more likely to be successful if all parties involved are united in purpose, respect, and communication. Because the authors and faculty all recognized the importance of career readiness and professional development, our partnership with these faculty members was significant.
In working with self-assessments, students became an expert on self. They began to recognize how to utilize tools to achieve goals and to develop what is natural to them, in this case from a holistic and strengths-based approach. In a survey distributed at the end of the semester to students in these Freshman English Composition courses, we observed the following
78% Understood their Strengths
82% Grew in Confidence
82% Strengthened their Professional Identity
Further, after a review of the data, three overarching themes emerged from student responses: application, growth, and future. Respondents to the first-year semester survey connected their strengths to writing practices, appreciated learning about their personal growth, and articulated the ways their talent related to their career goals.
Overall, students gained clarity of their natural talents, which increased their confidence. Self-awareness provides students insight into their natural talent inventories, which gives them a solid footing to pursue their career goals. Positive psychology and a strengths-based self-assessment provided the means to support a group of diverse CSUDH students in the classroom.
Bolles, R. N., & Brookes, K. (2022). What color is your parachute? 2022: Your guide to a lifetime of meaningful work and career success. Ten Speed Press.
Celistine, N. (2019). 3 most accurate character strengths assessments and tests. Positive Psychology, https://positivepsychology.com/character-strengths-assessments-tests/
CliftonStrengths. (2017, September 28). Why educators at all levels use CliftonStrengths to develop thriving students & schools [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/a0xf5Bij8nQ
Gallup. (n.d.) Develop thriving students & engaging schools. https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/253862/cliftonstrengths-for-schools.aspx?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIkc7D2Ziz-gIVKB-tBh0kRgdgEAAYASACEgISoPD_BwE
Gibbon, P. (2020). Martin Seligman and the rise of positive psychology. Humanities, 41(3). https://www.neh.gov/article/martin-seligman-and-rise-positive-psychology
Ingamells, K., Napan, K., & Gasquoine, S. (2013). Strengths in action: A pilot study of a strengths development programme within tertiary education utilising the Clifton “StrengthsQuest” and “Narratives of strengths” interviews. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 25(4), 71–84. https://doi.org/10.11157/anzswj-vol25iss4id65
Wade, J. C., Marks, L. I., & Hetzel, R. D. (2015). Positive psychology on the college campus. Oxford University Press.
Cathi Curen, M.A., is a Career Coach at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) and Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine Graduate School of Education (GSEP), where she teaches on the intersection of career and mental health. Cathi is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach and MBTI Certified Practitioner. She received her Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine Graduate School of Education and Psychology (GSEP) and her Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer Henriquez, M.A., is a Gallup CliftonStrengths Certified Strengths Coach and MBTI Certified Practitioner. She is a first-generation woman of color with dual roles at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) as a Career Readiness Coach and English Lecturer. She received her Master of Arts from CSUDH and certificate in Rhetoric and Composition in 2017. Contact: email@example.com