In the weeks leading up to the NISTS 2021 virtual 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 five on Thursday, February 25th. You can read more about Emily's story and meet the other 2021 ambassadors on the NISTS Blog.
Five Things I Learned from Transferring Three Times
by Emily T. Sturm
Five campuses, four schools, and nearly two hundred credit hours are what it took for me to get my bachelor’s degree. Now that I’m freshly graduated, I’ve realized that I undervalued some things the first time I transferred that made a big difference in my ability to be successful at obtaining my degree. Hopefully, these five areas will provide topics for future conversations with transfer students so they can connect to their new school and make the most of their transfer experience.
Exploration When I left high school and enrolled at the local community college, I selected the closest school that I could afford and didn’t ask any questions about the kinds of organizations and resources they offered. I didn’t understand that schools have different personalities and like people, you can’t love them until you get to know them.
Since I didn’t explore that school, I found myself discouraged and disappointed in my experience, which led me to take a semester off to earn money. I planned to transfer to a four-year institution; however, I still thought getting to know the programs and communities at my school was unnecessary. When money got tight, I didn’t know where to turn for help, and I dropped out so that I could work full time instead of seeking financial assistance and advice. By the time I got to Colorado State University, I wanted to explore but still wasn’t sure how to investigate opportunities. Participating in a transfer student community helped me become an expert at finding advice and resources to help me reach my goals. It took the combined voices of fellow students in that community, professors, counselors, and family to finally open my mind to the importance of actively searching for ways to get involved at school.
Engagement Opportunities like orientation, welcome events, and emails from peer mentors aren’t just cheesy traditions like I used to think. The first time I transferred, I didn’t go to orientation because it wasn’t required to register for classes, and I didn’t see how walking around campus on a boring tour could help me be successful. When I heard that CSU required every student to go to orientation and meet with an advisor, I thought that was a crazy idea. I believed that I didn’t have time to waste meeting other students and learning how to register. Today I am extremely thankful that the temptation of a complimentary burrito convinced me to attend. At that orientation, I discovered the importance of engaging in campus life. I learned about other non-traditional age students and felt less alone in the big lecture classes. I met knowledgeable peer mentors who explained that engaging in campus life was equally important to studying. Engaging at CSU and finding friends who I could relate to helped me stay motivated, feel less alone, and find a job I loved. One of the biggest challenges I have faced as a peer mentor for transfer students has been trying to convince them that these kinds of experiences will pay off in meaningful ways.
Education is Never Wasted
The first time I considered repeating a class because my credits wouldn’t transfer, I was so mortified that I thought it might be better to drop out of school altogether. The thought of having wasted my time and energy for an entire semester was too much to bear. Later, when I changed my major from elementary education to neuroscience, only a few credit hours transferred to my new degree, which felt like years of my life were just tossed in the trash. Yet, everything I learned in those classes impacted my daily life in ways I was blind to until recently. Now that I’m blending my passion for teaching with neuroscience, my previous coursework in education has given me a leg up on the competition for graduate school and jobs. Since I was encouraged to apply my education and experience in new ways, I grew to understand the true value of what I had done. Transfer students may struggle with classes that don’t transfer or feeling like they wasted their time at the “wrong” school, but it’s possible to harness these experiences to become a more successful student.
Differences At first, I was not excited to transfer to a big state school full of students I saw as privileged youngsters living off their parents. In fact, I was downright scared. How could I compete against all those traditional students when I had been on such a different path? I was afraid that people would see my age as a weakness, but I came to realize that I had judged my peers wrongly. I couldn’t have come to this realization without participating in professional development, school events, and even group therapy. It can be easy to look around a huge lecture hall and see the things that make me different. It’s much harder to appreciate that every person in that room has a unique story and special challenges that they have had to face. Learning to be comfortable around people who had previously intimidated me helped me find confidence in my own identity.
Working Together Working with transfer students over the past couple years has shown me that we often identify as fiercely independent. I met other students who, like me, were proud of their ability to learn independently and desired a school that would support that learning style. The idea of a mentor/mentee relationship used to represent weakness because I believed that only a person who could not succeed on their own would need someone to help them. Thankfully, I received training as part of a research program that changed my idea of what a mentor/mentee relationship could be, and I came to appreciate the fact that everyone needs to work together to be truly successful. Meeting highly successful students who spoke openly about the help they received reinforced the idea that accepting help is a good thing. While I’m still proud to be an independent person and learner, I realized that the smartest students seek tutoring and the highest achievers have mentors. Now that I’m not afraid to seek out collaborative efforts, I can see that true strength comes from the networks of social support we build for ourselves.
There is no easy way to teach someone the true value of these five things. Each person must learn through their own experiences that the ability to make the most out of our time in college is entirely in our own hands. By appreciating the unique qualities of a school and investigating opportunities to become a part of the community, the transition can become a challenge that makes a person stronger.