Mark Pogue has an audacious goal. He wants each of his students to create a great job and a great life for themselves. To achieve that end, Mark thinks each student, soon-to-be freshmen at the University of Nebraska College of Business Administration, needs to know what they do best and they need a coach.

As Executive Director of the Clifton Strengths Institute and instructor of an 800-person freshmen orientation course, Pogue set out to find 80 people who cared about the development of others and to train them to be strengths coaches. On April 15, 2016, Pogue and the 80 met for a 6-hour training. He explains that the coaches’ role goes beyond the 1:1 coaching and that it can have a significant impact on students’ lives:

In addition to the 1:1 time our students will see their coaches at lecture and in team meetings.  With our coaches possessing the expertise to have great conversations with their students specific to their strengths, we hope to minimize the chances that a new student would get lost in the shuffle during their first 8 weeks of college. I can’t imagine a better support system than having your own personal coach helping you build a plan for college success based on your strengths. We piloted the coaching model this spring and anecdotally students are commenting on the benefits of their coaching sessions especially around their awareness and application of their strengths to being successful academically.

The course is a high touch alternative to typical orientation courses that are deep in content and shallow in support. Pogue believes that this approach will pay off in the short-term and in the long-term: “Our freshman have an incredible opportunity to build a personal toolset that will not only help them navigate their freshman year, but also equip them for success after graduation.” Simon Wang, one of the 80 strengths coaches trained, says he hopes to help students grow through coaching and team meetings, “The most important thing I can provide to students is self confidence. Everyone has their own unique personality and behavior, so my goal is to empower these students through maximizing their strengths.”

These coaches will derive their own benefits from coaching the business students, says graduate assistant Samantha Kennelly:

This coaching experience is one of a kind; it’s an opportunity that attracts students, faculty, and staff who are passionate about investing in the growth and development of others through helping them develop their unique talents into strengths. These coaches will have the chance to develop intentional relationships with first-year CBA students and empower them to realize their individualized potential to maximize success during and beyond their college experience. Coaches will develop self-awareness around their own strengths dynamics, encouraging them to understand how they apply their strengths to interact and build relationships with others. This understanding will provide them with the ability to not only positively impact the lives of these students, but also to build, manage, and be a part of productive teams.

Kelsey Anderson, a newly minted strengths coach believes “the training helps me recognize strengths in others, and I hope that I will continue to learn how to build strong teams by understanding my team members’ strengths.” Her coaching colleague, Patty Edwards, says “This knowledge helps me be a better listener, encourager and problem solver.”

All told, Pogue’s army of 80 coaches will hold at least 1600 personal strengths conversations with the new business students during the first 8 weeks of school. For many students, this may be the first time they get to know their strengths and it most likely will be their first experience with a personal coach. What about more coaching sessions after this course is done? Stay tuned, the Clifton Strengths Institute is launching a strengths lab that will provide on demand coaching to students creating their great job and great life.

By Shane Lopez, Ph.D, Research Director, Clifton Foundation