As the inaugural vice provost for the Division of Student Success, I celebrated my first anniversary in January 2021. As I progress through my second year at the University of Tennessee, I am in awe of what we have accomplished as a division and university and overcome through three pandemics (coronavirus, racial, and economic). Our Volunteer community is stronger and more resilient due to the transformative work we have done this past year.
In collaboration with campus partners, Student Success initiated new initiatives – Vol Success Teams, Vol First-Year Experience, New Vol Experience, UT Success Academy, and Summer @ Rocky Top. These initiatives and the work of countless individuals are making an impact and are evident in our student scholars’ very own feedback. Within their first month of being at UT, over 75% of first-year student scholars connected with their Vol Success Team, a dedicated team of professionals that collaborates with them throughout their UT experience to develop and achieve their academic, personal, professional, and financial goals. 88% believed they would excel academically with that support and reported feeling less stress after meeting with their Vol Success Team.
Over the last year, the university community has been engaged in developing a new strategic vision, reimagining our vision, mission, and goals. A key concept in the strategic vision is to create a Volunteer experience for every student. We believe the foundational framework to develop this experience should be a campus environment that values and nurtures each student’s strengths. Helping students understand, build, and stretch their strengths will foster their confidence and resiliency, two essential attributes for success while at UT and after leaving us. Peer institutions (Minnesota, Texas, Purdue) that have successfully launched unique positive psychology approaches have improved student achievement in GPAs, persistence and graduation rates, and academic engagement and belongingness.
In spring 2021, the provost requested a group of faculty and staff to consider transitioning our campus to a positive psychology approach. UT has adopted confidence, high expectations, and every story matters as the guiding principles for our strengths-based mindset approach. We will use Seligman’s PERMA model as our guide to enhance the student experience. In early October 2021, the committee will present the provost with recommended operational plans based on three strategic pathways to transform the UT undergraduate experience through a personal, strengths and talent-based model.
As we return to campus this fall and welcome returning and new Vols, I am excited to look forward to the future and build upon the past year’s work. I cannot wait to see you on Rocky Top and, as always, Go Vols!
In the Volunteer spirit,
Vice Provost for Student Success
P.S. I refer to students as student scholars. Reframing their roles as scholars sets clear expectations of the academic curiosity that we hope they will achieve.