The University of Tennessee recently unveiled a collaborative initiative aimed at supporting new and transfer students starting their first year at UT.

The new initiative, titled Vol Success Teams, will see all new students paired with an academic advisor, academic coach and One Stop counselor who will work to enhance and support the students’ first-year experience at UT.

Amber Williams, vice provost for student success, spoke about how this initiative initially began and the purpose that she sees it serving new students at UT.

“When I arrived on campus in January 2020 as the inaugural vice provost for student success, I spoke with more than 100 students on campus about their experience at the University of Tennessee,” Williams said. “It was after those conversations in which students said the vast amount of resources at UT makes it confusing on where or who to go to for support that I developed the Vol Success Team. This initiative should simplify the process for UT students.”

Under the initiative, students will work with an academic advisor who will assist them with exploring different majors and career options, an academic coach who will advise them on developing semester goals and an academic success plan, and a One Stop counselor who will assist them with navigating processes related to financial aid, student accounts and enrollment.

One area that the Vol Success Teams will hone in on is emphasizing each Vol’s strengths and helping them understand how those strengths contribute to their academic path and personal well-being.

“In Student Success, our goal is to maximize every student’s strengths and find creative, holistic ways in which those strengths will contribute to the student’s academic dreams, career paths and personal well-being,” Williams said.

Doug Renalds, director of the Academic Success Center, elaborated on the student-strength focus of Vol Success Teams and noted that this initiative really sets UT apart from other universities.

“Within our case management model, each academic coach will work with a specific group of first-year students. Coaches are trained in learning strategies, UT academic policies and — new this year — as certified Gallup Strengths coaches. The Gallup Strengths Finder will help them to identify and build their strengths to enhance their talents and opportunities,” Renalds said. “To our knowledge, the combination of the Vol Success Teams and Gallup Strengths coaching is unlike any initiative or program found in other universities across the country. It is truly unique for UT students.”

For new students, and graduating high school students especially, the transition to college life can be a scary process, and in the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it can be even more overwhelming for these students.

Williams explained that while Vol Success Teams were not originally created with a pandemic in mind, the initiative has been adapted to help new students overcome the challenges posed by COVID-19 and thrive at UT.

The transition to college from high school may be challenging for many students — after all, it is a brand-new life experience. And, when you add the complexities and uncertainty of COVID-19, we had to quickly prioritize reimagining how we build a meaningful experience for our students,” Williams said. “We have carefully reimagined our programs, such as the Vol Success Teams (offered in-person and online), and opportunities to engage, support and energize our new students while also following CDC and local health and safety guidelines.”

Renalds seconded Williams’ thoughts.

Students will be joining the Volunteer community this fall in a way none of us could have predicted six months to a year ago. Some new Vols may need extra support as they navigate these uncharted waters and get to know our campus, both in person and virtually,” Renalds said. “COVID-19 represents a challenge, but the Vol Success Teams will support students through advising, coaching and learning. All students will benefit from a team dedicated to helping them maximize their strengths, talents, and opportunities at UT.”

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