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Furman wins national Don Clifton Strengths for Students Award

Photo of an auditorium in the distance, a fountain and two people walking across a green lawn.

Furman’s Kim Keefer relied on tenacity and grit to complete a grueling two-week Outward Bound excursion in Colorado during her grad school years. Now she’s using those same traits to help students at Furman University live their best lives.

Portrait photo of Kim Keefer, a woman with blonde hair and glasses.
Kim Keefer, director of the Shucker Center for Leadership Development.

In 2011, Keefer, director of Furman’s Shucker Center for Leadership Development, ignited a grassroots effort to bring CliftonStrengths to campus – a Gallup Inc. program that identifies and hones individuals’ unique talents and encourages students to apply their strengths in school and beyond.

She describes the early years as “dabbling” in strengths development, all the while planting seeds and securing buy-in across the campus.

Now the program boasts eight certified coaches and 20 strengths champions, it permeates nearly every aspect of student engagement on campus and Furman recently won one of five 2020 Don Clifton Strengths for Students Awards.

“For me, seeing the person-to-person impact this program has is why I do the work I do. To help students understand themselves, how they are wired, what their natural talents and abilities are, and then empower them to aim those strengths in a strategic way; that’s a powerful legacy we can leave our students,” she says.

At the core of the program is the CliftonStrengths assessment, named for the late Gallup chairman and “father of strengths-based psychology” Don Clifton. The assessment analyzes 34 talent themes and descriptors such as “activator,” “achiever,” “communication” and “relator.”

Gallup’s Tom Matson nominated Furman. He says schools that really hit the mark are the ones where Clifton Strengths are involved in five universal, interconnected elements: social, career/purpose, financial, physical, and community.

For instance, students who want to get connected on campus are tapping into their sense of community, becoming part of something bigger than themselves. “So, Kim and her team will sit down with a student and say, ‘Here are your strengths – let’s figure out how we can apply those toward your involvement here on campus.’ That’s an amazing gift to a student because we want them to be uniquely connected,” Matson said.

At the very best schools, Matson says, “You’re seeing these really intentional, methodical conversations about strengths flow throughout campus – that’s best practice.”

Those conversations don’t happen without the right people in place. “Furman has a real champion in Kim – someone who is passionate about the conversations but is also adept at assembling the right people,” Matson says.

Keefer isn’t finished developing the program on campus. “My dream is to have a certified strengths coach in every academic department so students can experience the connection of their natural talents to their majors and career paths,” she says.

The award is recognition of “what tenacity in pursuit of something looks like,” Keefer says. “I’m excited for Furman and our commitment to helping students understand who they really are, where they are at their very best, everything they bring to the table. That uniqueness is empowering individually, and even more so when it is leveraged to inspire others.”

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