Annual Award Winners

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University of Southern California

Dr. Estela Mara Bensimon, USC University Professor Emerita, is President of Bensimon & Associates, continuing her lifelong commitment to normalizing racial equity—helping higher education leaders, faculty, organizations, and staff feel empowered to accurately and effectively address the subject and make changes leading to improved outcomes for racially minoritized students. Known for her creation of the term “equity-minded,” Dr. Bensimon has published extensively about racial equity, organizational learning, practitioner inquiry, and change.


As Founding Director of the Center for Urban Education, which Dr. Bensimon created in 1999 and led until its merging in 2020 with the USC Race and Equity Center, she developed the Equity Scorecard—a process for using inquiry to drive changes in institutional practice and culture, increasing racial equity in higher education outcomes.


Dr. Bensimon’s efforts led to her election to the National Academy of Education and a Governor’s appointment to the Education Commission of the States; in 2020, she was honored with ASHE’s Howard Bowen Award for a Distinguished Career as well as the McGraw Prize for innovation in higher education. Her most recent book, From Equity Talk to Equity Walk: Expanding Practitioner Knowledge for Racial Justice in Higher Education, co-authored with Tia Brown McNair and Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux, was published in 2020.


Dr. Bensimon currently serves on several boards, including the Campaign for College Opportunity and Complete College America. A longtime professor of higher education at the USC Rossier School of Education, Dr. Bensimon earned her doctorate in higher education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Previous Winners: 

Debra Bragg (2019)

Charlene Stinard (2017)

E. Elaine Moore (2016)

Thomas J. Grites, Rebecca McKay, Robert T. Teranishi (2015)

Ellen Goldberg.png


Director, Transfer Center

Harold Washington College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago

For over ten years, at both Harold Washington College (HWC) and the City Colleges of Chicago District, Ellen has supported students to transfer successfully, emphasizing helping them obtain competitive financial aid packages. She co-created a transfer leadership class for students, created the district-wide Transfer-Mation leadership conference, and hosts the HWC Alumni Transfer Rockstar reunion. One nominator stated Ellen’s leadership has created a “… culture of transfer at Harold Washington College that permeates every classroom, advising appointment, and activity we undertake.” Ellen’s work has contributed to the increased transfer rate (56%) at HWC.


A former student shared, “Ellen is extremely effective at fostering an environment where students can explore their options and seek information about their next schools. She creates space where students can connect with alumni, which helps them understand what the next step will take and gain deeper insights about the institutions they are considering.” Another student said, “She was with me through the good and the bad of the transfer process. She always encouraged me to never lose hope and had an interesting way of bringing me back to my progress. Not only did she do this for me, but for countless students who were on the same transfer journey.” Finally, through all her work, Ellen’s colleagues say she “radiates joy” and “leads with love – a love that inextricably binds her work with our students’ goals and aspirations.”

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President and CEO

Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society

Dr. Tichner-Ladner’s career in higher education spans 30 years. At Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC), as the director of institutional research, she “fundamentally changed the College’s way of working with students resulting in significantly higher student retention, graduation, and transfer rates.” Now, as the leader of Phi Theta Kappa, an honor society for community college students, she “has influenced the national conversation on transfer.” One nominator stated that in her tenure at PTK, she has “opted to take risks and move in a direction that challenged the staff and board to make transfer a focus of daily, weekly, and long-term goal setting and attainment.”

Dr. Tichner-Ladner leads numerous transfer-related projects, including ongoing advocacy and establishing transfer scholarships for high achieving community college students—currently totaling $48 million. She established the PTK Transfer Honor Roll—a recognition showcasing the nation’s most transfer-friendly four-year colleges and universities. She has also worked with a team of students and national experts at two- and four-year colleges to create a free online transfer course for PTK members—Transfer Edge. Dr. Tichner-Ladner and her team created PTK Connect—a free online search tool that connects PTK members with transfer scholarships, colleges, and career pathways. She continues to champion both community colleges and community college students, using data from her innovative research to tell their stories and to advocate for the support of remarkable students and quality institutions of higher learning.


Barbara and Glenn Thompson Professor in Educational Leadership
University of Wisconsin-Madison 

For well over a decade, Dr. Wang’s work has centered on community colleges, transfer, and STEM education. She consistently partners with two-year institutions to improve transfer pathways and success, as well as examine faculty development and teaching practices that shape students’ experiences and trajectories. Her research and writings propel the voices of community college transfer students into national conversations, news, and other venues in the public sphere. Her recent book, On My Own: The Challenge and Promise of Building Equitable STEM Transfer Pathways, sheds critical light on enduring inequities in transfer, particularly in STEM fields, and offers a call to action for transfer practitioners and researchers alike to enact transformative change toward equitable transfer pathways.

A nominator stated, “Through her teaching and research, Dr. Wang has shown investment in the professional development of many doctoral students, community college faculty and administrative leaders, and in key partnerships in the policy community.” And, “Dr. Wang is among the leading producers in our field. She is innovative, original, critically engaged, and has bolstered the attention to community college transfer, subsequently elevating the transfer function.” She is perpetually inspired by community college and transfer students’ talent, motivation, agency, and resilience as they tirelessly pursue a meaningful education and ways to better serve their communities. Looking forward, Dr. Wang challenges all transfer advocates to move further toward a holistic, systematic approach to support successful transfer pathways.

Previous Winners:

Amanda Quintero, Janie Valdes, Heather Adams, Kerin Hilker-Balkissoon (2020)

Eboni Zamani-Gallaher, John Fink, Paulina Palomino, Russell Baker (2019)

Barbara Lerner, Lisa McIntyre, Nancy Lee Sanchez (2018)

Kathy Silberman, Maria Campanella, Artis Gordan (2017)

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Assistant Director, Transfer Student Advising and Admissions

A. James Clark School of Engineering, University of Maryland

Dr. Buenaflor provides pre-transfer advising to students interested in transferring to engineering, serves as the college articulation liaison for community colleges, and oversees onboarding programming designed to foster a sense of belonging among newly admitted transfer students. She also participates in the Transfer Experience Network (TEN), deepening the conversations about how best to serve transfer students, grounding recommendations in the current research on transfer students, and providing best practices for implementation. Dr. Buenaflor, an active scholar, grounds her work in theory and, through her research, developed a conceptual framework around transfer efficacy. She also created a transfer-specific welcome program and a two-semester TransferLEAD seminar course. One nominator states, “Due to her accomplishments, it is now common for her colleagues to remember and address the varying needs of transfer students in their work.” Externally, Dr. Buenaflor includes prospective students and community college partners in regular discussions and invites them to a formal program on-campus to facilitate communication.

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Transfer Resources Director

Austin Community College

Renee’s accomplishments include developing the Transfer Academy, a series of workshops to help students understand the fundamentals of transferring, engage with university representatives, and complete financial aid and transfer applications. One nominator stated, “Renee’s attention to all aspects of the transfer experience while working with administrators, faculty, university partners, and students has resulted in heightened awareness of the importance of an intentional focus on transfer and ensuring that every student is exposed to transfer planning.” Another colleague said, “Renee has worked relentlessly to increase the understanding of the transfer process and facilitate expedited clear paths for our students.” During Renee’s tenure, there has been a culture shift at ACC. Transfer is no longer a conversation at the end of a student’s time but at the start of their higher education journey. This year, ACC ranked top in Texas for university transfer student success (72% completed a bachelor’s degree within four years; Texas average is 64%).


Director of Transfer & Returning Student Resource Center

Portland State University 

Randi’s colleagues cite her innovation, collaboration, project management, and determination over five years as critical to creating the Transfer & Returning Student Resource Center that she now leads. The center is a crucial resource for PSU transfer students, who comprise 60% of incoming undergraduate students. One of her team members writes, “... the needs of transfer students are the starting place in any step made, from programming to policy … equity is at the heart of her values and decision-making process. She listens to what students ask for and challenges us to provide advising and programming that addresses their requests.” Another nominator states, “She ensures that all key decisions are informed by data about transfer students, from the top-level data about numbers of transfers down to the detailed data about course-taking patterns.” Colleagues describe Randi as “a tireless supporter and advocate of students. Her positive attitude and approachability inspire those around her to collaboratively and creatively develop and implement novel approaches to intractable issues.”


Associate Director, Center for Women in Technology
Research Assistant Professor of Engineering and Computing Education

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Dr. Ireland manages two large, NSF-funded projects specifically focused on serving the needs of transfer students. Through these projects, she mentors transfer students directly, educates faculty about ways to support transfer students, and conducts research to understand and address barriers these students face in STEM fields. Dr. Ireland’s colleagues describe her as “a strong, vocal, and persistent supporter of transfer students across campus.” One nominator stated that she “… challenged the status quo of professors’ understanding of transfer students (and community colleges), their abilities, and their backgrounds.” Another colleague shared, “By getting us all into the same room as a Transfer Learning Community, Dr. Ireland facilitated conversations between faculty from UMBC and community colleges to identify student (and faculty) needs to improve student success at both institutions.” Finally, a former student stated, “Dr. Ireland ensured that other transfer students and I felt heard” and that she “took a holistic approach when discussing what transfer students struggle with both academically and personally.”

Previous Winners: 


Jennifer Brown, Sara Price, Alexandrea Deerr (2020)

Crystal Flowers, Jason Dodge, Robert Charlebois (2019)

Holly Herrera (2018)

Carmen Robinson, Rajan Shore (2017)

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University of South Florida

Growing up in Belize, Dipti anticipated the traditional college experience abroad to support her goal of becoming a physician but started at a local community college because of its affordability. She then received a scholarship and enrolled at a private four-year school in Florida, wanting to make an impact and hoping it would be her home away from home. Unfortunately, she was discouraged by limited opportunities within her major, felt there was a lack of support for incoming transfer students and little diversity within the student population. She tried adjusting, but wasn't performing well academically, wasn't happy, and decided to transfer to the University of South Florida (USF).

Dipti entered USF discouraged, determined to focus solely on academics, and feeling ashamed for being a two-time transfer. The school's large size was overwhelming, but she appreciated the diverse students and opportunities in her major. Her orientation experience was also a critical part of a successful transition. She was surprised by the warmth and attention of the orientation leaders, faculty, and staff who “understood what it meant to be a transfer student.” She felt seen and heard. “My narrative wasn’t dismissed.” Dipti became a transfer orientation leader, sharing her story and inspiring other transfer students. She says, “My journey as an international transfer student has mostly been about shifting the narrative of being limited by the label you’re defined by.”

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Oglethorpe University

As a first-generation student, Michael was excited to enroll at the Ohio State University, but the size and climate left him feeling isolated. “Where were people who were like me? As a Black man who doesn't run a football or shoot a basketball, I did not feel like there was a place for me.”

Michael decided to transfer to the University of Cincinnati, where many of his friends attended. He enjoyed a year there, but when his mother got a job in Atlanta, he moved to Georgia. Michael applied to several schools, including the well-known HBCU’s, Morehouse and Clark Atlanta, but he stumbled on his future destination, Oglethorpe University, while exploring his neighborhood. His positive impression of the campus was cemented when he met an encouraging library faculty member who connected him with an admissions officer.

Once accepted, Michael’s journey got off to a positive start through a caring and helpful academic advisor. The advisor got to know Michael and helped him plan classes that fit his degree plan and interests. Over time, the advisor saw Michael's potential and invited him to be the first transfer student liaison based in the office of academic success. Michael said, “Finally, someone could see me, not just my degree audit or how many credit hours I had left for my degree. He saw me. He saw my passion, my drive, and my willingness to help anyone who may need it.”

Michael says, "I want to share from a student perspective how universities can best help their transfer students acclimate and how they can support them.”

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University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Keirra’s college journey began at a for-profit school, leaving her with debt, no job, and feeling discouraged. Around this time, she gave birth to her daughter. Then, her mother unexpectedly died. In addition to grieving, she faced the responsibility of caring for her daughter alone, and now her brother.

Determined to provide a better life for her daughter and brother, she returned to school, this time at a public community college. Although she no longer faced predatory practices, she didn’t feel supported. “I had no one to help me and felt lost when selecting my classes. I enrolled in many unnecessary classes that did not count towards a degree." 

After taking time off to care for her grandmother, she returned to the same community college, this time “taking classes that counted.” She continued to care for her grandmother and almost had to stop taking classes again, but she persisted.

At this point, tired of minimum wage jobs, Keirra began working as a plumber but knew she didn’t want to do it long-term. This realization, along with frustration at the 2016 elections results, motivated her to return to school, this time at Henry Ford College, focusing on social change. She thrived, describing it as “the first time I had the support I needed to succeed.” Keirra became a leader in several student groups and participated in the University of Michigan (UM) transfer bridge program.

Even with this strong foundation, Keirra faced struggles enrolling at UM. She was initially denied admission based on a technical error. Instead of becoming discouraged, Kierra applied again, was accepted, and received a scholarship. Now, she serves as a leader in the transfer student community at UM through her roles as a student advisor for the Transfer Bridges to Humanities program and a Transfer Student Leader Fellow. She says, “I now understand the difference a support system can make. I want to help others through the process.”

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Colorado State University

Emily began as an elementary education major at North Central College. When her parents divorced her junior year, she decided to support her siblings financially rather than spend her hard-earned savings on tuition. This break lasted ten years while she worked in the restaurant industry, often in leadership roles.

During this time, she joined the Pink Boots Society, a community of women in the beer industry. Emily credits this group with her decision to return to school and major in neuroscience. “For the first time in my life, I saw women with non-traditional paths being taken seriously and acting as leaders in our male-dominated community … and they treated me like I could do it too.”

Emily enrolled in Front Range Community College because of the low cost and the supportive community in the Wolves to Rams (W2R) program. W2R offers advising, community, and programming at both the community college and Colorado State University (CSU).

Staying involved with W2R once she transferred to CSU contributed to Emily’s success and helped her adjust to the much larger campus. She was encouraged by seeing other transfer students navigating CSU, graduating, and reaching their goals. Emily became a peer mentor for W2R, encouraging non-traditional transfer students to get involved and complete their degree. She says, “It is important that transfer students hear that it is possible to overcome challenges like non-traditional age and financial concerns.”

Previous Winners: 


Kaylee Cheng, Jahine Grady, Tanya Nasrollahi, Macia Outlaw (2020)

Jevaughney "Jay" Francis, Jennifer Hernandez, Bianca Hill, Taylor Smith (2019)

Diana Castro, Brandon Cheatham, Veronica Sanders, Louis Veloz (2018)

Bianca Dirige, Jordan Gomes, Hillary G. Allen, David Nguyen, Erin Georgia (2017)

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Virginia Tech

Enhancing the Community College Transfer Pathway: Exploring Aspects of Transfer Receptivity at 4-Year Institutions in Engineering

Dr. Grote’s dissertation, comprised of two manuscripts, explored aspects of transfer receptivity at four-year institutions to understand how they relate to the efficacy of vertical transfer pathways in engineering disciplines. The first manuscript was a case study of an articulation agreement partnership between a four-year institution and two public community college partners. The second manuscript examined how transfer policies and institutional characteristics of four-year institutions in the U.S. relate to the enrollment, graduation, and reporting of transfer students in engineering. Grote used a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies across both manuscripts. The results of these studies revealed that:

  1. Specific challenges for transfer in engineering suggest that adequate examinations of transfer receptivity need be discipline-specific.

  2. Institutions encounter dissonance when simultaneously managing aims to increase access and prestige.

  3. There is a need for shifts in policy and ranking systems that incentivize increases and improvements in vertical transfer.

  4. There is a need for more transparency of transfer-related policies and transfer student data.

  5. Our understanding of transfer matriculation remains well ahead of graduation outcomes.   

Previous Winners:

Laura W. Yavitz, Ph.D. (2019)
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Vicki J. Rosser, Dissertation Chair

Vertical Transfer and Baccalaureate Completion for Adult Community College Students: Milestones and Momentum Points that Matter

Dalinda Martinez, Ph.D. (2016)
Michigan State University, Marilyn J. Amey, Dissertation Chair
Transitioning: The Transfer Student Experience 

Loni Bordoloi Pazich, Ph.D. (2015)
New York University, Robert Teranishi, Dissertation Chair
Influencing Transfer and Baccalaureate Attainment for Community College Students: Quasi-Experimental Evidence from Texas


Erin E. Shaw, Ph.D. (2014)
University of Missouri, Cassandra E. Harper, Dissertation Chair
Sense Making for Community  College Transfers Entering a Public,  Liberal Arts University

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Texas A&M University

Collaboration in Transfer Student Work: A Cultural Historical Activity Theory Study at Four-Year Institutions

Practitioners’ ability to effectively collaborate with colleagues both inside and outside of the institution is critical to creating and sustaining transfer student programs and services. Despite a burgeoning field examining this issue, little is understood about how practitioners collaborate in transfer student work, particularly at four-year institutions. This study will examine two four-year institutions as contextual case studies of practitioner collaboration in transfer student work. Qualitative methods and an Activity Systems Analysis (ASA) framework will be used to understand the individual and social interactions of these collaborations in greater detail. A deeper understanding of the practitioner perspective of transfer student work will help institutions in the execution of the transfer student experience.

Research questions for this study: 


  1. How do different practitioners contribute toward collaborative activity in transfer student work?

    • What are the motives associated with those actions?

    • How do these motives differ based on the practitioner’s sub-culture in their institution?

  2. How do practitioner actions impact the collaborative activity of the transfer student experience?

Previous Winners:

Catherine Hartman (PI) & Jeffrey Mayo (Co-PI), University of Texas at Austin (2018 Winner)
Examining Vertical and Horizontal Transfer Student Experiences and Identity Development at Four-Year Institutions in Texas

Yu Chen (PI), Linda Serra Hagedorn (Co-PI), Ran Li (Co-PI), Iowa State University (2017 Winner)

International Reverse Transfer in Iowa: Perspectives from Both Sides

Erin Lynch-Alexander (PI), Virginia Linares (Co-PI), Austin Peay State University (2017 Winner)

Perception of Campus Climate for Military Affiliated or Military Connected Transfer Students

Mary Von Kaenel (PI), Clemson University (2016 Winner)

Examining the Transfer Pipeline Connecting a Two-year College and a Four-Year Research Institution in South Carolina