In the weeks leading up to the NISTS 2019 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 facilitated by Janet Marling, Executive Director of NISTS, during the closing session on Friday, February 15th.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a first generation American and college student, so the idea of college in general was initially a very confusing concept. My first year was extremely challenging and trying. Although I eventually got a handle on everything, I never found a space to grow and explore new opportunities, which–before I knew transferring was a possibility–led me to think I might not be meant for college. I am often a trailblazer of sorts in my family, however, and was driven by that ideal to try and try again until I found my place. After moving a few times and transferring twice, I finally hit my stride at Baylor and found that place. I connected to myself and others in a way that developed my strengths and served those around me. With the encouragement from and opportunities afforded to me by my transfer peers and staff, I graduated last month with my B.S. in anthropology and am now an admissions counselor for my alma mater. I get to represent all incoming students, including transfers, and count it all joy.
Where did you begin your college career? Where did you end up? Even though I was born and raised in Dallas and am a Texan through and through, I started my college career Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During that first year, my hall-mates learned that “y’all” is, in fact, a real word, and I learned that it’s hard to find a good taco once you leave Texas. Ultimately, I was not a very good fit for my academic program or the cultural differences between the northeast and (the great country of) Texas. I moved back home for my second year and attended my local community college, where I learned what a wonderful place community college can be for crossing paths with every demographic and learning as much from professors’ curriculum as from other students’ worlds and life stories. I ended up at Baylor University two hours south of my home and family and will likely never leave, now that I've graduated and have a job at the university. I hope to make a professional career out of seeking and creating new positions across campus that serve non-traditional students.
Did you complete an associate's degree before transferring? What led to your decision to complete it? By the time I got to Brookhaven Community College, I was only a few credits away from completing a general sciences associate's degree. I had no intention of completing a degree before transferring because I didn’t realize how close I was until late in my fall semester, but an academic advisor enlightened me and helped me swap out a few classes so that I could get my A.S. by the end of spring.
What drew you to your new campus? Baylor offered a good balance between rigorous academics and school spirit-infused student life, but I think my fit in the campus’ psychosocial environment was ultimately what swayed me. The sense of community that comes from its Christian heart (but that doesn’t drown you in judgmental condemnations) is rare but very special. Religiously affiliated schools can sometimes be intimidating, even if you do identify with their spiritual mission, because I think the Church can sometimes cast long, dark shadows. However, I think Baylor does a good job of using the guiding principles of serving and loving others as Christ did without excluding students who don’t follow the Christian faith, and I think that’s pretty rad.
What were your concerns about changing schools? What were the most difficult parts of transferring/acclimating to a new campus?
Oh boy, what weren’t my concerns is a better question! I worried about a lot of things really, but my primary concerns were related to losing previous classes’ credits, not knowing how to bridge the financial gap between community college and four-year tuition expenses, and adjusting to yet another ‘culture’. I also struggled with anxiety and depression, issues that worsened in my time away from home at my first school; therefore, the most difficult part of acclimating to another new place was learning how to take care of that part of my health while navigating all the other challenges most transfers face. Having to play academic catch-up because of lost credits and different degree requirements in addition to learning campus traditions while jumping into a different social scene were challenging as well.
To offer a happy resolution to the mental health story in a brief tangent: because I was able to find support that shared the burdens of the transfer student challenges in my transfer community, I was also given the freedom to seek out and receive treatment that has, since my move to Baylor, helped me become happier and healthier than I ever was before college. You never know how creating a positive atmosphere for transfers, even without knowing the specific needs of each student, might positively impact their life trajectories—academic and otherwise.
Who was the one person at your institution who helped you the most as you made your transfer? Mr. Joe Oliver is Baylor’s transfer guru and the superhero who has, for several years, run a marvelous Transfer Student Success department as an office of one. He is the first staff member I met after I decided to transfer to Baylor; the person who encouraged me to apply for this ambassador position before I even knew what NISTS was; the guy who directed me to and helped me get the job I have now; the one who helped me lead new programs on campus that would change the way transfers experience moving to Baylor; and the reason I found and got to live in the transfer student residence hall where I met the people who would help me study for an upcoming exam but will probably also eventually be in my wedding someday.
That is a funny thought but also meaningful in how connected I got to that community and how much of its success can be attributed to Joe’s dedicated service to transfers. He has watched me grow in every way and encouraged me through every rough patch, giving every one of my ideas (even the silly ones!) his respectful attention. Joe helps every transfer student he meets get connected to the resources they need to be successful and happy, and our transfer community is more successful because of that.
What is one piece of advice you can give transfer students? What about those who work with them?
For students: Get involved in student life as quickly as possible! Dive in!! Get plugged in every way you can, because you might find you are the oddball on campus pretty quickly but being connected to your new school and its spirit will give you a sense of belonging that will encourage you through the uneasiness that is inevitable during your transition.
For those who work with them: Be visible in the transfer community and consistently available to transfer students with information regarding campus resources. Remind them that transitioning is hard but they’re doing great, are never too behind or out of the loop to be successful, and are not a disappointment or failure if their first school didn’t work out.
If you were the president of a college or university, what would you do?
Aside from having a waffle, pizza, and smoothie bar in every building, I would create a space for people of different walks of life to find common ground. I think that a little disagreement or ignorance, if settled and educated in a respectful and dignified way, is hardly as bad as its discomfort often leads us to believe. I also think that having any opportunity to connect with others over differences is exciting; being open to opposing perspectives inspires growth, which is a wonderful gift. Transfer students–and really every student who finds himself in the other category at any point–might find transitioning and acclimating easier if they knew they had a place to share the weight of their frustrations and misunderstandings, somewhere to be heard.
I picture a big, bright room–it has many windows and a lot of natural light–with a lot of art materials and a giant chalk wall or maybe a bunch of plants with yoga vibes, but it could really look like anything else the students envisioned. There would be only main rule: every student who enters must recognize the limits of his/her wisdom gained from personal experiences and approach every conversation with an offering of humility, as much as he/she is able. That, and they have to back my plan to install waffle makers everywhere. I like the thought of calling the project and its home space “Samesies” (like “same”… with a “zees” ending for fun), but I’m not sure how far that would go in the project’s proposal process…