Meet Jennifer Hernandez
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.
For me, navigating college was like expecting to walk down a hallway and ending up in a labyrinth. Each step forward led me somewhere strange, into a new corner and around the bend and into a mysterious room, alone and afraid. I was vulnerable, bewildered by policies and institutions I couldn't comprehend.
When I see a problem, my first inclination is to solve it. I ask a lot of questions and I analyze just about everything. I'm always a step ahead, searching for new possibilities to answer my inquiries.
I'm looking forward to taking my fervor for analysis and problem-solving into a career in public policy, and maybe even into public office. I want to uphold and improve the institutions that form the backbone of society, to ensure that policies are designed in the best interest of vulnerable people.
Where did you begin your college career? Where did you end up?
I’m a proud graduate of Harper College in Palatine, IL, and now I’m finishing up my bachelor's degree at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Transferring to a university felt a lot like applying for the first time, and I couldn’t believe that, after two years of college, I was still clueless about how four-year schools worked. I spent about a year learning my way around UIC until this past fall when I was fortunate enough to study abroad in Ireland at the Whitaker School of Government and Management with a concurrent internship in the Government of Ireland.
Did you complete an associate's degree before transferring? What led to your decision to complete it?
Yes, I completed my associate of arts degree. Legend had it that completing your associate’s makes transferring easier (although now I learn that researchers are debating this point!). A few wise words stuck with me, too: my dad told me that if I came out with a degree, that was something no one could take away from me.
What drew you to your new campus?
Narrowing down my college choice was a painstaking balance between my aspirations and financial limitations. UIC seemed to offer the best connections and access to a vibrant city I’d dreamed of living in. The English program appeared to offer a choose-your-own adventure and the university encouraged self-directed research.
What were your concerns about changing schools? What were the most difficult parts of transferring/acclimating to a new campus?
Since community college had become a second home to me, the issue of leaving was less about the place and more about the people. I also wasn’t sure how I was going to pay for university, or whether I’d be able to go at all. It reminded me of the summer before freshman year, and I never wanted to feel that way again. But thanks to combination of scholarships, grants, and loans, I made it!
Who was the one person at your institution who helped you the most as you made your transfer?
My debate coach, Josh, has been a source of encouragement since I started at Harper until well after I transferred. He was there for me in times of crisis with last-minute recommendation letters and words of wisdom. Usually it was something as simple as, “You’re going to be fine.” I knew I could trust him.
What is one piece of advice you can give transfer students? What about those who work with them?
Students, you'll need mentors and advisers, but the best thing you can do is be your own advocate. Ask all of your questions (especially your “stupid” ones) and don't stop until you understand the answer. When you don’t know what questions to ask, ask “why?” “what do you mean?” “what else do I need?” and “what’s next?”
For those who work with transfer students, you can probably guess why I'm going to say: please answer all of our questions with accurate information or helpful referrals. BK Townsend’s paper “‘A Hand Hold for a Little Bit’: Factors Facilitating the Success of Community College Transfer Students to a Large Research University” is one of my favorites. Transfer students are adults and we're incredibly capable, but we don't know what we don't know. We need a hand to hold for a little bit. Be the hand.
If any students want more advice or of any professionals want examples of the questions I answer, I’m just a click away at CollegeCoward.com.
If you were the president of a college or university, what would you do?
The most important issues to me are accessibility, accountability, and transparency. First on my agenda is updating policies to reflect the needs of current and prospective students, to make degree attainment only as difficult as the course material itself.