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A student participates in a group study session inside the Art and Architecture Building

The Office of the Provost and Division of Student Success announced a new advisory council to develop recommendations about how the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, can incorporate positive psychology into the undergraduate experience.

Over the past year, the university community engaged in developing a new strategic vision, reimagining UT’s vision, mission, and goals. A key concept in the strategic vision is creating a Volunteer experience for every student. The foundation for that experience is a campus environment that values and nurtures each student’s strengths.

“In line with our new strategic vision for UT, university leadership recognizes that higher education must prepare our students for a rapidly changing work and living world. Our students desire more than a traditional curriculum offers; they want to grow as individuals and to be prepared to lead in challenging times,” said John Zomchick, provost and senior vice chancellor. “Incorporating positive psychology into the undergraduate experience will allow our students to thrive—here and in their lives after UT.”

Helping students understand, build, and stretch their strengths will foster their confidence and resiliency, two essential attributes for success in college and after graduation.

“We believe developing a strengths-mindset approach, similar to peer institutions, through curricular and cocurricular efforts will have a direct impact on students’ academic success at UT,” said Amber Williams, vice provost for student success. “This comprehensive approach will improve student achievement in GPAs, persistence and graduation rates, and academic engagement and belongingness.”

In addition to the advisory council, the provost asked a small group of faculty and staff to consider transitioning UT to a positive-psychology approach. The group focused on the spring launch of a long-term university-wide initiative to harness students’ innate strengths, both academically and socially, and create a learning environment aimed at increasing student success in and outside the classroom.

“Moving forward, our collective will create a range of opportunities for students to actualize their knowledge, skills, and dispositions to learn about themselves and discover ways to support and draw upon one another,” said Mary Jane Moran, professor and head of the Department of Child and Family Studies, who is a member of the provost’s group. “The creation of this shared effort will be built on the potential of students, staff, and faculty to reimagine and ensure a more productive and cohesive campus community and society.”

The group has proposed three preliminary strategic pathways to transform the UT undergraduate experience through a model based on personal strengths and talents:

Person. Maximize each student’s innate talents and build the relationships necessary to meet their academic, career, and leadership potential; increase self-awareness and learn ways to enact new knowledge of self; and understand, appreciate, and draw upon the talents of others.

Infrastructure. Evaluate and reimagine academic and social support infrastructure to facilitate student success, high resiliency, and self-efficacy.

Community. Reimagine the curricular and cocurricular efforts that elevate transformational strengths-based active learning deliberately woven throughout the UT undergraduate experience across time and diverse experiences.

The full advisory council will review the proposed goals, recommend actionable items the university may consider for moving the initiatives forward, and submit assessment metrics. A list of advisory council members is located on the Student Success website.


Lacey Wood (865-974-8386,

Maddie Stephens (865-974-3993,