In the weeks leading up to the NISTS 2023 virtual annual conference, we're highlighting the transfer stories of this year's National Transfer Student Ambassadors. All four students will attend the conference in Portland and participate in a student panel conversation. You can read more about Atziri's story and meet the other 2023 ambassadors on the NISTS Blog.
Hola, my name is Atziri Citlali Regalado Juarez. I am a junior and a transfer student at the University of Utah.
My higher educational journey began at Salt Lake Community College. Ironically, that was the last place I imagined myself going. I decided to attend community college first because as a first-generation, undocumented immigrant, it was more accessible. Surprisingly, I fell in love with my community college and still cannot comprehend what I accomplished there.
I am studying Honors Psychology and minoring in Nutrition. I want to combine these areas and work with folks that may be struggling with eating disorders or disordered eating. I chose my major because I loved dance back in high school. Going into my freshman year of college, I wanted to explore all genres of dance, so I started taking ballet lessons at a local studio. I enjoyed ballet, but I discovered and fell into a black hole. Eating disorders in ballet, and in dance in general, are still very prevalent.
If I can’t work specifically with folks who are suffering from an eating disorder, I know that psychology is applicable anywhere and everywhere. Nutrition is similar in that sense. I also want to pursue graduate school. I want to get into the Dietetics Program at the University of Utah. A fun fact about me, as mentioned before, is that I am a dancer. Back home, I am currently a backup dancer for a local drag queen.
Deciding to Transfer
In my academic school year of 2021–2022, I was Vice President of all Clubs and Organizations at my community college. This enriched my college experience. I was advocating for students by being the student voice in administrative spaces. I was training and connecting student leaders across our ten campuses. I take pride in knowing that I helped our clubs and organizations resume after the pandemic. With all those accomplishments, I graduated and transferred to the University of Utah.
I chose the University of Utah (the U) because of my mentor Christina Souknarong. Christina once said, “Atziri, you are one of my only students who I can say, ‘take life by the horns,’ and actually does it.” Christina attended the U for part of her undergraduate program. She said the U would be a good fit for me. I didn’t want to go there; I wanted to go to Utah State University. One day she finally sat me down at her office and asked, “Why don’t you want to go to the U?” I realized I had a lot of negative connotations about the University of Utah because of my personal life.
What she told me next surprised me more. “Look, I understand, but the U is so big. Others’ experiences won’t predict your own. Now, why do I insist you go to the University of Utah? One, the Dream Center is up there. You need that resource. Second, community. Up at the U, you have a community. Community and connections will pull you through when times get tough. I am not underestimating you, but don’t build from the ground up if you already have a community waiting for you to integrate yourself into.”
Around that time, I attended an event where someone said, “If someone sees potential in you, let them guide you because you can flourish into something beautiful you would have never imagined.” Those words lingered, especially because in high school I was part of a dance company. My dance coach at one point saw my potential in class and at the auditions. Now I can’t see a life without dance, so I decided to take another leap of faith and trust Christina.
Adjusting to a New School
When I first got accepted to the U, it was a very special moment. It the Monday after my spring graduation. In fact, I was at Salt Lake Community College cleaning out my vice president office. One last time, I logged on to the computer to check my emails, and there it was: my acceptance! I ran out of my office looking for my mentor, Christina. Christina had mentioned that she wanted to know the moment I found out if I had been accepted. She was just coming out of a meeting when I ran up to her and asked, “Are you busy?”
She replied, “Just got out of meeting. Why?”
“I got news!”
Christina immediately exclaimed, “YOU GOT ACCEPTED TO THE U!”
I just nodded my head.
All my close friends had gone straight to the University of Utah after high school. They had received a Pell grant and a scholarship. I did not receive the same opportunity because I am undocumented and do not qualify to fill out the FASFA. Fortunately, both Salt Lake Community College and the University of Utah have centers dedicated to help students like me access higher education. When I transitioned to the University of Utah, I was excited to reunite with my friends and to see the potential my mentor saw in me flourish.
But I was not as prepared as I thought I was to transition. My mentor connected me to a lot of folks and centers that have been a huge help. This includes the Dream Center, the First-Gen Program, and our Center of Equity and Student Belonging, to name a few. I honestly thought I could do what I had done at the community college: apply to scholarships when the semester started, walk around the campus to find resources, pile on the credits and leadership opportunities. Boy, was I wrong. The U is huge, and most scholarships are due right as the semester starts. Those two things made it difficult for me. I ended up paying for my first semester out of pocket.
Even though I connected with a lot of folks throughout the semester, I still feel like I know less than 10 percent of my university. As transfer students, we only have a limited time to acclimate, as we are trying to finish our four-year bachelor’s degree. So if the institution we transfer to doesn’t have programs or centers to aid transfer students, we miss out on a lot of valuable information.
My first semester at the U did not go as planned. A week before the beginning of the semester, my motto was, “I’m going to take the U by the horns.” In other words, I was trying to ride my college journey like a bull: dominating it, enjoying it, and taking risks. Well, the one that got dragged around was me. My first semester was rough. First, all my savings went to my tuition that first semester, leaving me financially struggling. Since I took sixteen credits because of coursework and research, I was not able to work during that semester. Kind of scary if you ask me. The commute was farther, which took more time that I could have used for other things. Geographically speaking, the University of Utah is built on a mountain. So you are going up the mountain and down the mountain as you try to get to class. Physically, you get exhausted if you are not used to it. Salt Lake Community College has ten campuses, but most of them are small and down in the flat valley.
The culture shock was huge too. The community college serves nontraditional students and vocational students and is more ethnically diverse because of its accessibility. I am a minority student with a low economic background. At the University of Utah, I stuck out. I was in a primarily white and affluent institutional space, and I didn’t feel alone; I felt isolated.
If centers do not promote themselves, students will miss out on incredible resources. And again, as transfer students we do not have time to go looking for them. Having a program that funnels transfer students into an institution is essential!