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Thrive at Penn is now mandatory for all upperclassmen to complete in order to register for spring classes. 

Credit: Ananya Chandra

Only 7.9 percent of upperclassmen have completed Thrive at Penn — and until the other 92.1 percent completes it, they will not be able to register for spring classes. 

Although all incoming freshmen completed the pre-orientation module, only 646 of 8,132 upperclassmen did the same, according to Executive Director for Education and Academic Planning Rob Nelson. Any student who has not completed the module by early October will have a hold placed on their registration for the spring term and will have to complete it before they can register.

Nelson said the decision to mandate completion of the module was intended to ensure all students are familiar with the resources available to them at Penn. Last year, they encouraged students to complete it, but had not made it mandatory. This August, that changed. 

“How do we know, for example, that every student knows that they can call CAPS 24 hours a day — anytime — to talk to a counselor? We decided that the answer to that question was to make Thrive at Penn required for all students.”

Thrive at Penn was made available to all undergraduates for the first time last fall. It covers four topics: thriving at a research university, alcohol and other drugs awareness, healthy relationships and sexual violence prevention and health and wellness.

Previously only available for incoming freshman, the module was expanded in response to the results of the Association of American Universities' Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct.

The AAU survey found that only 10.7 percent of respondents knew Penn’s definition of sexual assault, and only 12.6 percent knew where to make a report of sexual violence. Compared to peer institutions, students at Penn were relatively pessimistic about the University’s ability to handle complaints of sexual violence.

Students at Penn were also less likely than average to believe that a victim of sexual violence would be supported by fellow students in making a report, that campus officials would take the report seriously or that the safety of the victim would be protected.

When the module was first expanded, there was a higher rate of completion among upperclassmen. By the first day of classes of the spring 2016 term, 23 percent of upperclassmen had completed the module. Then, students were incentivized by a drawing for $100 toward the bookstore for every 75 students who completed the module.

But only 12.3 percent of the Class of 2019, 7.3 percent of the Class of 2018 and 4.6 percent of the Class of 2017 completed the module after it was assigned again for this semester.

Nelson said that the decision to expand the program was made in consultation with the Undergraduate Assembly and the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education and added that undergraduate feedback — from students involved and uninvolved with student government — will shape future development of the initiative.

“Thrive at Penn is an experiment. We are working to make it an effective way of delivering the most important information we can to students. But we’re always in the process of rethinking Thrive at Penn, and so we’ll be spending time this year trying to figure out how to make it more effective,” he said.

College freshman Radha Vyas found the module helpful because it introduced her to the range of resources available at Penn. College freshman Meghana Singh didn’t think she would ever want to watch the video portions of the module again, but she thought she would refer back to the PDF portions for the lists of resources and contact information.

Even though only a small slice of upperclassmen have completed the module, it was brought to everyone's attention last Friday after some students responded to a reminder email and, due to a listserv error, the entire population of students enrolled in the module received their responses.

Some students were confused about whether they had completed the program, while others were frustrated with the new mandate for completion.

Nelson said that the next email reminder will only be sent to students who have not completed the program and that students will not be able to “reply all” on the next email.

“Those kinds of mistakes are always embarrassing when they happen, but we’ll make sure that for future reminders we get it right,” he said.

Nelson sent an additional email to students who replied to the initial email reminder sent by Vice Provost for Education Beth Winkelstein.

He apologized for the “spamming” that occurred, writing “The listserv should not have allowed recipients to reply all, but it did for almost an hour.”

He also apologized for sending the reminder to students who had already completed the module and explained how to check one’s Thrive at Penn completion status on Canvas.

Nelson concluded the email with an invitation for the students to provide input on the module.

“If your questions did not get answered by this email, if you are frustrated by having to complete a new version of TAP, if you are angry about the spam you had to deal with last week, or want to talk to an actual human being about TAP, please give me a call,” he wrote.

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