We are pleased to celebrate and amplify voices that represent the students at the heart of our work. Nominated by transfer professionals and selected for their commitment to promoting transfer at their institutions, these outstanding individuals remind us that each student has a unique journey, and it is essential that we listen to and learn from them. The ambassadors will share their stories at the annual NISTS conference and will play an integral role as we explore the power of connections in creating an inclusive and comprehensive transfer student experience. Congratulations to this year’s TSAs!
Atziri C. Regalado Juarez
Atziri started her higher education journey at a community college “because, as a first-generation undocumented immigrant, it was more accessible.” Her first semester was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but her experience improved after that.
Faculty and staff at Salt Lake Community College provided her with mentorship and support. During a business class, a professor pushed her academically and encouraged her to join the college’s DECA chapter, which focuses on developing future business leaders. Through this opportunity, Atziri competed in national competitions and won awards. The same professor encouraged her to apply for a position with the Student Executive Council, where she served as Vice President for Clubs and Organizations. This opportunity enriched her college experience as she advocated in administrative spaces for other students like herself. She also trained and connected student leaders across the school’s ten campuses, helping them restart their programs after the pandemic.
As Atziri considered her transfer options, another mentor on campus encouraged her to apply to the University of Utah. Initially, Atziri felt intimidated and planned to go to a smaller school. But her mentor described opportunities for connection and support and expressed her belief that Atziri would succeed there, so she decided to apply.
Atziri was accepted to the University of Utah but faced a rocky start. Looking back, she links her feelings of isolation to being a “minority student in a primarily white and affluent institutional space.” She persisted and found “a small community that was waiting to expand.” She got involved with the Dream Center, which supports undocumented students, as well as the group First Generation Scholars. Reconnecting with high school friends also helped.
“Being a transfer student means a lot of self-advocacy,” Atziri says of her experience. “I saw that there is a lot of emphasis on [helping freshmen] to feel acclimated. Transfer students—not so much. Having some sort of mentorship on and off campus, with former transfers and new transfers, would make the transition more frictionless.”
“Atziri is someone that is constantly working to collaborate and make others feel they belong in the spaces they enter,” says her nominator, and “she holds peers, staff, and faculty accountable to the social change we all strive to achieve.”
Jolynna’s transfer journey began during her senior year in high school, when she learned about Dual/Concurrent Enrollment. Provided through Golden West College, a local community college, this opportunity allowed her to test her interest in business through a college-level Business Marketing class. Her positive experience led her to enroll at Golden West after she wasn’t accepted at her first-choice school. At the community college, a transfer counselor helped Jolynna craft her transfer admission essays and encouraged her to gain leadership experience. Following this advice, she served as the student representative on the campus planning and budget committee, a shared governance committee chaired by the college president. Her nominator noted her “leadership abilities, organizational skills, and team approach” in this role. After completing her transfer requirements in one year, Jolynna applied to UC Irvine. Though excited to be accepted, she found the transition challenging and felt “out of place and alone.” Towards the end of her first quarter, she learned about Visions Leadership, a class offered in collaboration with student government that focused on advocacy and leadership development. Part of this class included developing and executing a group project. “Working in this team with the goal of improving the campus experience was something that I enjoyed and wanted to continue,” she says. She applied to be the Transfer Student Support Commissioner and now works to plan events and advocacy efforts to improve the transfer experience and community at UCI. She will also lead a transfer mentorship course to facilitate workshops and other opportunities for incoming transfer students. “I strongly believe in the power and benefits of community college and see how there are many misconceptions revolving around it,” Jolynna says. “The transfer journey is something I believe to be extremely underrated because it encompasses a wide range of students from different backgrounds but all working towards a goal that will benefit them and their future.”
Juan “Oso” Bran-Gudiel
Oso first enrolled at a community college, but his hours-long commute on public transportation was exhausting. When he saw a billboard for another community college, he decided to apply. “I was stumped by how every educational system operates under its own meritocracy and different procedures,” Oso says. He was asked to provide multiple official documents that he wasn’t sure how to obtain, and then he was sent to five different individuals who couldn’t assist him. Finally, a counselor helped him obtain the needed documents, and Oso was finally enrolled.
His path to finding his purpose began with a general education sociology class. He wanted to work with foster youth who are in and out of the prison system and chose to major in Sociology and Ethnic Studies. “With the help of my mentors,” he explains, “I found my purpose and became aware that working with system-impacted individuals was possible.” He began searching for a place to complete his bachelor’s degree.
Visits to several university campuses proved unfruitful, but several mentors encouraged Oso to take one last trip to UC Santa Barbara, and this school felt right. He learned about UCSB’s “rich history of activism that has been driven by people of color.” He adds, “Learning about the scholars who pioneered the way in 1969 to ensure that our generation would have a whole Chican@/Latinx department at UCSB...lit a fire in me, a hidden passion, and gave me the hunger to know more about my ancestry and roots.”
Since his arrival at UCSB, Oso has excelled as a leader in activism and service on campus and in the community. His nominator states, “What makes him a leader is his work ethic and love of learning, coupled with a sincere concern for his fellow students and community.” He co-founded Gaucho Underground Scholars (GUS) at UCSB, which supports formerly incarcerated, system-impacted students. As part of this work, he built a collaboration with the Santa Barbara Alternative Violence Project where GUS members facilitate workshops with teens, teaching them how to deal with their surroundings in positive, healthy ways in order to reduce violence in their schools and communities.
He also co-founded Tri Alpha Honor Society to honor and celebrate the academic achievements of first-generation students, faculty, staff, and alumni. In addition, he is a mentor with PRomoting OPportunity and Equity in Learning (PROPEL) which serves high-achieving, first-generation, low-income students majoring in the social sciences. Oso celebrates that he has “been able to accomplish so much for not only myself but for my local community and future generations to come” and that “by my mere presence here I am liberating my people.”
After high school, Emily enrolled in a flagship university about five hours from home but struggled to transition to the large campus. When she realized this institution was not the right fit for furthering her education, she began her transfer journey. She enrolled in a few courses at Hudson Valley Community College while searching for a smaller university closer to home.
She found Union College and met an incredible support system of friends, family, faculty members, and fellow students who, as she said, “are excited to be there, support one another, and explore the opportunities in front of them.” Motivated by what she saw, she enrolled as a commuter student. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, she continued to face uncertainty and struggled to fully acclimate.
As COVID restrictions were lifted, a faculty member suggested that Emily live on campus, where she could “dive into in-person opportunities.” Equipped with a strong support network, she began to get involved. Through a tour guide program, she learned to connect with her community and began to appreciate the importance of advocating for transfer students like herself.
Now, as a transfer ambassador, Emily advocates for students who take the nontraditional path and works as a mentor and as the Transfer Orientation Advisor. According to Emily, “Representation of transfer experiences in addition to sustained support and connections are incredibly important…to show that there’s not just one path.”