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Transfer Toy Story: You've Got a Friend in Me

Written by: Rachel Fulton, University of Cincinnati

Transfer work isn't usually the blockbuster smash everyone looks forward to summer after summer. Instead, it's the legendary story that delivers time and time again--a heartwarming saga filled with essential life lessons. In this guest blog post, University of Cincinnati academic advisor Rachel Fulton uses the movie Toy Story to illustrate why functional institutional partnerships are so pivotal to the transfer experience.

And just like that, you’re taken back to the purity and legacy of J. Lasseter’s (1995) animated film, Toy Story. You can probably see it playing out and hear the soundtrack in your mind. But what does any of it have to do with transfer? What can transfer champions learn from this grand adventure?

Main Characters

It’s undeniable that Woody and Buzz are the two major players in this feature film. Both have different needs and different approaches to being the best toy they can be for Andy. Woody has been Andy’s toy for years and shines as a leader and a staple in the toy community. He is there for Andy day-in and day-out and consistently orchestrates the best playtimes. Enter Buzz, the newest and shiniest toy, who focuses on his own identity and his bond with Andy. Once Buzz is introduced as a toy, things take a turn. Animosity and resentment set in between the two, resulting in an unhappy Andy having lost toys.

Much like Woody and Buzz, the relationships between community colleges and four-year institutions can be fraught with bitterness and envy. The bright, shiny four-year institution can sometimes overshadow the reliable, legacy community college. But just like Woody and Buzz must work through their different needs and approaches, so too must our institutions work to be the best for our students. Community colleges and partner four-year institutions must move through any existing animosity toward true partnership and support, or our students become the lost ones.

Colleagues look at information on a laptop

Supporting Actors

It is important to note that the film isn’t called “Adventures of Woody and Buzz.” It is a true Toy Story in which all of Andy’s toys coexist and thrive together. It takes every toy to make the best toy box for Andy and to make Woody and Buzz’s relational transformation work. Without Rex, Slinky Dog, Bo Peep, and others, Andy’s playtime fantasies fall flat. Likewise, without these characters’ focus on understanding one another and helping Woody and Buzz realize that they’re on the same team, the two leading characters would have stayed distanced.

Like Andy, our students need all of the support they can get as they navigate and transition into, through, and out of our institutions. They need the Bo Peep academic advisors at the community colleges who are focused on supporting students to reach their goals. They need the Slinky Dog transfer directors helping Woody and Buzz come together and focusing on the institutional relationships and pathways. They need the Mr. Potato Head, Hamm, and Rex at the four-year institution enthusiastically welcoming them through orientation programming, supporting them as they navigate paying for their experiences, and engaging them in the classroom or a high-impact practice like research. It takes everyone knowing each other and understanding that they are all in this together for the student to make the Toy Story work.

Plot and Purpose

It is easy to focus on the characters – to get swept up in the “who does what” of it all. It is easy to get caught up in the actions of each character and lose focus on the plot. We get caught up in the drama of Sid’s backyard and forget that we’re all Andy’s toys. But as I’ve said before, it’s all about Andy. The movie doesn’t exist without him and the toys’ mutual goal of his happiness. Andy needs all of his toys available to him to have the best playtime experience. More than that, he needs their cooperation behind the scenes. Like Andy having no idea his toys are “living” and thriving together, the institutional partnership needs to work. It needs to be as seamless as possible so that it goes practically unnoticed by our students because it is working so well.

Life Lessons

So how can we be better toys for our Andys, and how can we be the best of friends like Woody and Buzz? How can we move our relationships from envy, animosity, or protection of our self-interests to true partnership and support?

It starts by getting to know the other toys and understanding who they are. Promising practices like transfer symposiums and institutional roundtables or summits provide a safe backyard for this to happen. They provide an opportunity for advisors, student affairs staff, faculty, and deans to share experiences from their perspectives. But more importantly, such initiatives: create a space for partnering institutions to focus on the student experience; a platform for improving individual relationships; a vehicle for exploring ways to work together for the transferring student’s success; and a catalyst for paving the way to make the transition as seamless as possible.

Once set, these foundational relationships require maintenance and action. Time-tested practices like articulation agreements show our partners that Andy is the focus of our world. Imagine articulation agreements are the lyrics to You’ve Got a Friend in Me – classic and hopeful. But what is happening on screen? Are we merely stating we’re great partners, or are we also showing students what that means?

We must go beyond curriculum guides and enact a seamless process that supports the entire transfer transition, or we may as well be lost toys. Promising practices like pre-transfer or traveling transfer advising show our students that we are invested in their curricular successes and, beyond that, are invested in them as whole students as we dream with them and develop action plans for their futures. Promising practices like transfer orientations show our students that we value their experiences but understand that not all is as it seems in a transition. Promising practices like Transfer Appreciation Week show our students that they are our Andy and that they matter.

As Toy Story challenges us to take a look at our relationships across differences, I challenge you to take a look at yours. How are you the best toy you can be for Andy? How are you actively supporting the move toward partnership? How are you implementing strategies that Andy will never see but that result in his success?

“To Infinity and Beyond.”


Lasseter, J. (Director). (1995). Toy Story [Motion Picture]. California: Pixar Animation Studios.


About the Author

Rachel Fulton ( currently serves the University of Cincinnati as Senior Academic Evaluator for College Credit Services in Enrollment Management; her role focuses on the oversight of UC's articulation agreement processes including supporting internal and external partners in the development of mutually beneficial agreements. Prior to entering her role at UC in July 2019, Rachel served in advising and transfer professional roles at IUPUI and Ivy Tech Community College. She has worked in higher education as a transfer champion with an advising heart since 2010.


The views and opinions expressed on the NISTS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NISTS. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.


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