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A new way to help students thrive

Thriving in Action program uses positive psychology to help struggling students
By: Will Sloan
September 05, 2017
Chinelle McDonald

Photo: Chinelle McDonald joined Thriving in Action to get back on track. She’s returning to the program as a mentor. Photo by Clifton Li.

Last March, Social Work student Chinelle McDonald found herself struggling to finish her third year of undergrad. After a string of personal challenges (including an ailing family member in Jamaica and a challenging internship) made completing the semester an uphill battle, she enrolled in a new initiative to help her get back on track. Now in her fourth year, she’s returning to the Thriving in Action program this fall—this time as a mentor.

“I had big goals in mind, and one of them was finishing the semester,” said McDonald. “But I had forgotten the smaller things, like finishing an assignment and getting a good mark on it. Taking those into consideration, and celebrating them as being obstacles that I’ve overcome leading to the bigger goals, was important.”

Thriving in Action reminded her to keep her academic year in perspective, taking things one day at a time. “They spoke a lot about celebrating the small victories because they can really have a significant impact on creating the motivation to move forward,” said McDonald.

Thriving in Action is based on ThriveRU’s positive psychology and progressive learning strategies. First run as a weekly program from March to May as a pilot, Thriving in Action returns this month for students in different cohorts -- those on academic probation, and those registerd with Academic Accomodation Support and the Centre for Student Development and Counselling waitlist. It consists of group-based workshops on a handful of important topics: optimism, resilience, grit and perseverance, strengths, belongingness and community, confidence-building, balance and vitality, and self-compassion.

“We’re really trying to identify the students who are not yet in crisis, but who are not thriving—they’re kind of in the middle,” said Diana Brecher, scholar in residence, Positive Psychology, and co-creator (with Deena Shaffer) of Thriving in Action. “We’re trying to help the ones who are struggling more quietly and are not getting attention because they’re not falling apart, they’re just not doing very well. They could be doing so much better with a couple of extra skills.”

The group format of Thriving in Action is intended to boost student confidence in a collaborative environment. The curriculum includes resilience training (mindfulness meditation, optimism, self-compassion and grit), creative writing, and lessons on topics like time management, essay-writing, and building self-confidence.

For McDonald, the program’s biggest benefit was making her realize she was not alone. “There are a lot of traditional one-on-one supports available; for me, sometimes that’s intimidating. For me, being in a group and sharing similar struggles with folks going through similar experiences was really helpful in knowing that it wasn’t me alone that was experiencing it. We’re all here together, and we’re all here to support each other in this journey.”

To take part in the next round of Thriving in Action, contact Diana Brecher at or Deena Shaffer at For more information on ThriveRU, visit

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