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.
Hi everyone! My name is Taylor Althea Smith and I’m currently a junior at Spelman College studying Political Science. I’m originally from Montclair, New Jersey, which is where most of my family still lives today. When I’m not spending time with them, I’m probably in Atlanta doing the best I can to be an adult!
My interests include:
Listening to NPR
Model United Nations
The real United Nations
Volunteering at my local library
Talking about the socio-political implications of rap music
Watching TONS of reality television
My family are the most important people in my life and this year has been particularly difficult for us as my father passed away on January 5th. I want to give a special thanks to my newest family at the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students for their unyielding kindness and encouragement. I can’t wait to finally meet all of these phenomenal people in person.
Where did you begin your college career? Where did you end up?
I attended high school in the United Kingdom, which is where I discovered my passions for international relations, cultural exchange, travel and politics. After four years of living abroad, I chose to attend a university in the United States so that I could be closer to my family. I eventually landed on American University in Washington, D.C. because they specialize in preparing students for careers in International Service. I started my college career there in 2015. I spent two years at AU, before I made the decision to transfer to The Illustrious Spelman College in Atlanta, GA.
Did you complete an associate's degree before transferring? What led to your decision to complete it?
Before I started looking into transferring schools, I didn’t even know that completing an associate’s degree might have been a beneficial pursuit. I’ve spent all of my time in college working towards a bachelor's degree. I have no regrets, but I wish that my high school college counselors provided me with more information about my options for after graduation.
What drew you to your new campus?
My experience at American University was incredibly strenuous. It was marked by difficult experiences of racism and exclusion. I have criticized the university on many occasions about their inadequate response to the horrific incidents that occurred on campus from 2015-2017, that left many feeling unsafe and unable to learn. What drew me to Spelman College was the promise of an environment where I could focus on my academics without fear for my own safety. I was also excited to develop a social life, which was something that I was missing during my time at American University. I was definitely attracted to Spelman College because of its stellar reputation and unparalleled ability to prepare women of color for the workforce. I also think that choosing to attend a historically black institution reflects my love of family. The experience of fictive kinship between students often leaves me feeling swathed in sisterhood.
What were your concerns about changing schools? What were the most difficult parts of transferring/acclimating to a new campus?
I transferred to Spelman College for largely social reasons, so my biggest concern was being disappointed by the environment there. And if I’m being honest, I was. There is a severe lack of structure and adequate assistance in the transfer experience. And, as it is such a traditional school, their culture is also not very receptive to nontraditional students. We’re working on it!
Who was the one person at your institution who helped you the most as you transitioned between schools? What did s/he do that made a difference?
Spelman College does not have dedicated transfer services, so unfortunately for much of our experience we were on our own. I’m delighted to say though, while we work on improving our administrative processes, our transfer students have found innovative ways to stay involved and in the loop!
Our transfer students are some of the most resilient people I have ever met. Their ability to provide critical feedback while still remaining positive about their experiences has always helped keep me grounded as I spearhead initiatives on campus to get us on better footing.
What is one piece of advice you can give transfer students? What about those who work with them?
I’m not sure if I have any advice for transfer students, because everyone’s situations are so nuanced and different. If I could say anything at all, it would be that it’s important to face down difficult decisions with a good understanding of yourself and your goals.
For the people that work with transfer students, especially in institutions like mine who do not have dedicated transfer resources, the use of language is very important. When you’re bringing in nontraditional students inclusive language can make a world of difference. Be sure to include transfers when you welcome your new incoming class of students, mention them in institutional literature and give them regular shout outs at social programming. For people that might not always identify with the class that they came in with, it keeps us feeling valid and included.
If you were the president of a college or university, what would you do?
I would make Model United Nations a mandatory class. Seriously.