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How Wellbeing Is Advancing the Volunteer Spirit at UT
Education

How Wellbeing Is Advancing the Volunteer Spirit at UT

by Bailey Nelson

Story Highlights

  • UT's Vol Success Teams comprise a comprehensive student support network
  • UT uses CliftonStrengths to boost students' confidence and self-awareness
  • The Vol Success Team initiative has increased student success and wellbeing

UT's Keys to Success: Merging the Volunteer Spirit With Wellbeing

Students are the foundation of the University of Tennessee's Volunteer culture.

UT leaders celebrate the diversity of students' strengths and backgrounds -- and they're committed to providing each one with the opportunities, care and support they need. Because a student's success isn't theirs alone. Their success goes on to affect communities across Tennessee and the world.

When students reported challenges navigating the multiple departments and offices at UT, the university took prompt action to ensure they could easily connect individuals with the resources they need. UT's efforts included the creation of Vol Success Teams -- an initiative born from the Volunteer community's desire to empower students to achieve their academic, professional, financial, personal and community goals.

Vol Success Teams: Student Support Grounded in Wellbeing

Vol Success Teams are a comprehensive student support network. First-year and transfer students are connected with a team of dedicated advocates -- their personal Vol Success Team. The core of the team includes an academic coach, academic advisor, and counselor who guides students and assists them with:

  • academic goal setting and planning
  • enrollment, financial aid, student account concerns and administrative deadlines
  • exploring majors and career possibilities

Faculty also play a critical role in students' overall success -- some students have a dedicated faculty or peer mentor on their Vol Success Team. And students themselves are engaged participants on Vol Success Teams: They co-create their UT experience and are encouraged to set and achieve academic, professional and personal growth goals.

A central component of Vol Success Teams is CliftonStrengths: Gallup's world-renowned assessment that boosts students' confidence in who they are and shows them how they uniquely make a difference. During their first year, all UT students receive the opportunity to learn about all of the CliftonStrengths and discover their own top five natural talent themes. The most common top five CliftonStrengths for the fall 2020 cohort of first-year students were: Restorative, Achiever, Empathy, Adaptability and Positivity. The following year, the most common top five CliftonStrengths among first-year students were Restorative, Achiever, Competition, Adaptability and Empathy.

After UT students discover their CliftonStrengths, they meet with their academic coach for a CliftonStrengths coaching session. And when students meet with members of their Vol Success Team and other support units on campus, CliftonStrengths provides a common language for discussing each student's unique aspirations, challenges and opportunities. CliftonStrengths empowers UT staff to connect with students on a personal level and provide transformative coaching tailored to each student's one-of-a-kind strengths.

Here's how one student describes their experience with Vol Success Teams:

"They were kind of like my own cheer people. When I need help with anything that has to do with the university, I know I can reach out to them. And since they're set, I don't have to explain everything over and over again to someone new. It makes everything a whole lot easier."

CliftonStrengths also supports UT's efforts to create an engaging, collaborative and inspiring culture in which every student feels seen, heard and valued for their unique contributions. Further, the language of CliftonStrengths helps leaders communicate their vision for helping students prosper.

A Thriving Culture of Volunteers

When UT students understand what makes them unique, they feel a sense of belonging -- and learn how to apply their natural talents to thrive in all facets of life.

Since the Vol Success Team initiative launched in 2020, 97% of first-year students have discovered their CliftonStrengths. And 7,334 student scholars received academic coaching sessions during the 2020-2021 academic year, compared with 3,758 in the previous academic year.

Students who participated in strengths-based academic coaching experienced a higher average term GPA (3.28) than those who did not (2.99).

Additionally, more than 100 UT staff have received Gallup CliftonStrengths coaching. This training has heightened their ability to coach students to harness their natural talents.

As a result, UT offers world-class, individualized student development that engages students academically, develops their leadership skills and deepens their campus engagement.

When UT students understand what makes them unique, they feel a sense of belonging -- and learn how to apply their natural talents to thrive in all facets of life.

Students have expressed positive feedback about Vol Success Teams. They report lower stress, an increased sense of belonging and more confidence for academic success.

CliftonStrengths has helped UT leaders achieve another key goal: improving students' holistic wellbeing. Gallup data show that when people can develop their strengths, they're more likely to thrive across all five elements of wellbeing: career, social, financial, physical and community. Students with higher wellbeing are healthier mentally and physically, perform better, and have stronger relationships.

Growing for the Future: UT Success Academy

CliftonStrengths and Vol Success Teams are just the beginning of UT leaders' ongoing pursuit of student success. With their eye toward future improvement, leaders have implemented the UT Success Academy (UTSA) to support first-year Black and Latino men and cultivate their strengths. Each year of the UTSA program is dedicated to fostering student wellbeing, and CliftonStrengths is a strategy to lift this goal:

  • First Year: Understand your strengths.
  • Second Year: Build your strengths.
  • Third and Fourth Years: Stretch your strengths.

Through UTSA, students receive unparalleled strengths-based development -- from personalized academic coaching to opportunities to study abroad.

At UT, students have far more than high-quality, relevant educational opportunities: UT provides a community of comprehensive student support -- fueled by a Volunteer spirit that inspires students to enrich and serve the world around them.

Because UT is committed to cultivating students' strengths and wellbeing, it can ensure every student graduates as a self-motivated, resilient, confident and driven citizen. The ultimate outcome is not only thriving students, but also thriving communities.

Create an institution where students and staff can thrive.

Author(s)

Bailey Nelson is a writer at Gallup.


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