In the weeks leading up to the NISTS 2020 annual conference, we're highlighting the transfer stories of this year's National Transfer Student Ambassadors. All four students will attend the conference and participate in a student panel conversation during concurrent session one on Wednesday, February 5th.
What’s your major? Why did you choose it, and what do you hope to do after graduation? When I was in high school, we conducted semester-long projects about subjects we felt really passionate about. I didn’t have the words for it then, but I kept finding myself interested in institutional inequality, immigration, and diaspora studies. I didn’t know it, but I was conducting research.
While in community college, the first sociology class I took put into words what I had tacitly been so passionate about in high school. That first week, I declared Sociology as my major. It was such an immediate interest once I took a couple of classes; it felt like a love affair. In contrast, Anthropology was a gradual interest, but I eventually couldn’t give one up for the other.
I now attend UCLA as a double major in both disciplines. I’ve always felt they inform each other, and I am looking forward to conducting research in both areas this upcoming year. I want to pursue a career in research and will eventually pursue my Ph.D. Some of my more general research interests include minority populations, women & sexuality studies, urban studies, immigration, and discrimination. Currently, I’m designing a research project with my advisor, Dr. Kevan Harris, about Iranian-Americans and the construction of ethno-racial boundary-making.
Did you complete an associate's degree before transferring? What led to your decision to complete it (or not)? I completed three! Anthropology, Sociology, and General Social Sciences. I finished them easily because there was a lot of overlap with the requirements and classes. Having three AA degrees made it easier to apply to all sorts of different schools. I didn’t know about my General Social Science AA degree until I was in the registrar’s office, well after graduation, asking to get my degrees. It was a fun little surprise. Luckily, my Community College made it easy for me to apply to get my AA degrees.
What were your concerns about changing schools? What was most challenging about transferring/ acclimating to a new campus?
I was very concerned about feeling lost in a bureaucracy. I had heard horror stories about transfers being unable to declare a major, or falling behind with minimal room in their schedules because they couldn’t register for the exact classes they need. Knowing my professors would have high expectations for my work, I felt nervous about maintaining my high marks. You never know how you will handle change until you’re there. It felt like everyone around me had a transfer horror story, no matter how qualified or driven. I haven’t had any horror stories yet, but I operate in a defensive mindset.
This quarter, I’ve been applying to undergraduate research fellowships. I started the process over the summer and wasn’t able to secure an advisor until late October. As a transfer student, it’s difficult to secure a strong letter of recommendation when you haven’t built a relationship with your institution. The community college professors that could speak on my ability and work ethic are not available to me as potential mentors. I felt disadvantaged in this process because of my transfer status, but ultimately I was able to submit all my fellowship applications.
What did you do to find support/community on campus? I joined the world’s first and only sorority of Iranian-American women. It has been really uplifting because we focus on our academic lives and empowering each other. One of my research interests is the Iranian-American diaspora, so it has been really rewarding to be among people who have backgrounds and struggles similar to mine.
I would also like to mention that the UCLA Transfer Center does an awesome job of creating fun events and building community among our transfer student body. It’s common to see transfer students holding the passion planners the center gave them, and I’ve even attended their painting nights a few times. They are absolutely incredible, despite recent changes forcing the center to be primarily student-run.
I have also found a strong network and community with the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship and Lemelson Honors program. After a period of transition, I finally feel like I am part of UCLA’s campus.
What is something you wish you knew before transferring? What has been your best/worst transfer experience so far?
I wish people had been more upfront that my workload would be completely different. “Easy and hard” are such confusing, binary words for a well-intentioned transfer student looking for a reason to be nervous. If my CC professors had been upfront about the level of reading comprehension, amount of writing, and TYPE of writing I need to do at UCLA, I would’ve prepared myself more. So much of my schooling, both inside and outside of community college, has been about gearing an assignment to an individual expectation of a professor. At UCLA, I am encouraged to use my own voice, ideas, and critical thinking ability. It’s been amazing, but I have to stretch my brain in a way that I haven’t always done.
As for my best/worst transfer experience, I would say my experience applying for fellowships has unusually been my worst turned best experience. As I mentioned before, I felt the application was geared towards 4-year students who had time to develop relationships with faculty. But after finding a willing advisor, I’ve learned that the individual attention and feedback they can give are SO valuable.
I’ll admit that when I received my first set of revisions, I struggled with imposter syndrome. I didn’t know this type of feedback was not only normal but the most valuable part of the advisor/advisee relationship. I was afraid my advisor thought I was incapable, or that he would secretly write me an awful letter of recommendation. What I didn’t know was the amount of time and persistent effort he was putting into my application and me.
When I was selected to interview, I believe it must have in part been because of the strength of his letter. The days I spent worrying about the pages of revisions were actually the most valuable lessons I learned this quarter. I was personally enlightened about the nature of advising, but I also became a far better academic writer. I was accepted into both the Lemelson Anthropological Honors research program, and I was awarded the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship. MMUF has been a dream. I will never take the opportunity for granted, especially as a transfer student.
What one piece of advice would you give students who are considering a transfer between schools? What about the faculty and staff who work with transfer students?
Transfer students, your questions are not stupid. They are a resource in themselves because you can use your curiosity to connect with faculty and fellow students. Also, you can never over-plan, so always get a second opinion. Finally, your self-efficacy is your best weapon—use it.
Faculty, I cannot emphasize this enough: Be. Approachable. Do not promote the “hidden curriculum.” Some students never learned how office hours work, to no fault of their own. Other transfer students haven’t been in school for years. When the administration closes dining halls during breaks, be mindful of how it impacts the food insecure or financially vulnerable. Be aware of the deadlines for Junior year programs that are promoted during sophomore year; transfer students are already late and disadvantaged. For a campus to feel like home, it starts with your openness and vulnerability with your students, and the policies that keep their well-being in mind. Dr. Abraham Jack states in his book, The Privileged Poor, “Access is not inclusion.” This mantra should be applied to transfer students as well.