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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has been named one of two recipients of the 2022 Don Clifton Strengths for Students Award. The award recognizes colleges, universities, and districts that “enable students to learn what they naturally do best and apply their strengths to thrive in school and all areas of their lives.”

UT and the Denton (Texas) Independent School District were selected from more than 1,000 schools that partner with Gallup on their strengths-based strategy.

Amber Williams

“It’s our goal to harness the power of our students’ strengths, promote their well-being, and produce graduates who are self-motivated, confident, and driven by service,” said Amber Williams, vice provost for student success. “We are honored that Gallup has recognized our holistic approach to student success as a national model.”

Soon after Williams was hired in 2020 as UT’s first-ever vice provost for student success, she assembled Vol Success Teams, providing every student with a team of professionals to help navigate their academic journey. Each Vol Success Team consists of an academic advisor, an academic coach, and a One Stop Student Services counselor. The Vol Success Teams use the CliftonStrengths assessment as one tool to help students understand their natural talents and identify ways to deploy those talents both inside and outside the classroom.

Some 11,000 undergraduate students have taken the CliftonStrengths assessment, including 97 percent of first-year students. The impact of strengths has been noticeable, according to Williams.

“Since we’ve launched Vol Success Teams and the CliftonStrengths assessment, first-year retention and persistence rates have increased. Students are reporting higher levels of academic preparedness, a sense of belonging, and decreased stress. We believe this comprehensive approach will help our students perform better academically, be more confident, and be mentally and physically healthier.”

2022_GEWA_Logo_020122_es_Award_DonaldOClifton_S4SAward_BlkDuring their first year, all UT students can learn about their CliftonStrengths and discover their top five natural talent themes. UT students’ top five themes are restorative, achiever, competition, adaptability, and empathy. CliftonStrengths provides Vol Success Team coaches with a common language for discussing each student’s unique aspirations, challenges, and opportunities—and provides transformative coaching tailored to each student’s one-of-a-kind strengths.

“UT has always been a place where Vols learn how to lead and light the way for others,” said Chancellor Donde Plowman. “By helping students understand their strengths and how to leverage them, we’re giving them the tools and the confidence they need to be the best version of themselves so they can succeed here on campus and wherever they go next. I’m proud of our students and our student success team for this incredible honor.”

In the last two years, more than 100 academic coaches, honors coaches, career coaches, academic advisors, and student life staff have participated in CliftonStrengths professional development. Clay and Debbie Jones Center for Leadership and Service also uses CliftonStrengths to maximize student organizations’ experience, effectiveness, and efficiency and to enhance the experience and culture of employees and faculty.

Williams said that UT encourages students to be intentional about their leadership and academic and professional development on campus.

“By helping students identify and hone their talents, challenging our students and developing systems to support them, our students and graduates will be successful, confident, and thrive.”

Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup, offered his own congratulations to UT on its recognition as a “strengths-based” campus.

“UT’s initiative gives every student an opportunity to soar with their strengths–and for many, to maximize their strengths ten times over. The University of Tennessee is a talent machine and the economic engine of the State of Tennessee. When students get their strengths together, there are no limits to what they can lead or build.”


Tyra Haag (865-974-5460,

Lacey Wood (865-974-8386,