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Positive Psychology & UT’s Undergraduate Experience


UT Instructor and ClassroomUndergraduate Student Success through a Strengths-Mindset Lens

Higher education is in transition as technology, finances, changing demographics of our country, and enrollment challenges are at the forefront of our competitive landscape. As such, to remain competitive, we must move beyond merely recruiting and retaining student scholars through traditional measures. Generation Z wants morethey are questioning the value of higher education. 

UT can set itself apart by creating the conditions in which each undergraduate student scholar feels empowered to thrive. We propose developing a positive psychology alternative to most student success programs that often operate from a deficit-oriented perspective with little focus on college student scholars’ unique strengths that they bring to post-secondary education. Empirical evidence supporting positive psychology in higher education continues to emerge as researchers recognize the relation between a person’s wellbeing and personal and professional goals and dreams. Consequently, we believe strengthening our curricular and co-curricular experiences through a strength-based perspective will be particularly useful to prepare UT’s undergraduate student scholars to change the world, not just change with it. 

Working closely with the campus community, we propose three preliminary strategic pathways to transform the UT undergraduate experience through a personalized strength and talent-based initiative 

After reviewing popular positive psychology theories such as Growth Mindset, Hope, Grit, and Self-Determination, each with its own sets of opportunities and limitations, we decided to develop a conceptual framework that best fits the Volunteer spirit. A spirit that values courage, creativity, flexibility, and hard work.  As such, UT’s positive psychology framework is defined in three ways.


We believe that our student scholars can learn at high levels. We share this message often and consistently.

High Expectations

We challenge every student scholar intellectually. We believe expectations are attainable.

Every Story Matters

We will provide the structures necessary for every student scholar to reach their potential.

Preliminary Strategic Pathways

1. Person. Maximize each studentinnate talents and build the relationships necessary to:

  1. Meet their academic, career, and leadership potential
  2. Increase self-awareness and learn ways to enact new knowledge of self
  3. Understandappreciate, and draw upon the talents of others
2. InfrastructureEvaluate and reimagine academic and social support infrastructure to facilitate student success, high-resiliency, and self-efficacy.  
3. CommunityReimagine the curricular and co-curricular efforts that elevate transformational, strengths-based, active-learning deliberately woven throughout the UT undergraduate experience across time and diverse experiences. 

Preliminary Metrics for Success 

  1. Students strengths awareness will positively impact fall and spring GPA and academic persistence through students’ engagement, heightened awareness, and academic self-efficacy. 
  2. Increased knowledge of self and appreciation of others’ perspectives will increase students’ ability to identify and solve problems and communicate with others more effectively. 
  3. Increased engagement in Vol Success teams, student organizations, leadership experiences, and co-curricular activities (such as co-op experiences, internships, undergraduate research) 
  4. Student scholars will respond to academic belongingness survey questions at the following rates: 
    1. I feel a part of the UT community-70% agree or strongly agree 
    2. I believe that I will excel academically at UT—70% agree or strongly agree  
    3. I would rate my current overall stress level since enrolling at UT this fall is—70% average or less than average stress. 

Strengths-Mindset Consultants & Advisory Council

Partnership with Teaching & Learning Innovation

To support the university’s Strengths-Mindset initiative, Student Success is partnering with Teaching & Learning Innovation to launch two faculty-specific programs.

TLI’s Course Redesign Institute

A virtual three-week event during the May 2021 mini term, the Course Redesign Institute will bring together faculty from across UT to share ideas from their own pedagogies and participate in a focused track to redesign one of their courses.

TLI’s Certificate Curriculum

The six evidence-based certificates were developed by TLI staff and piloted by select UT faculty and staff and will allow participants to pursue beneficial, in-depth self-paced learning experiences and professional development.


What Is Deficit Thinking? An Analysis of Conceptualizations of Deficit Thinking and Implications for Scholarly Research

Impact of Positive Psychology

Towards a Positive University

Challenging the Deficit Mindset Handout

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