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Bonita C. Jacobs Transfer Champion Award Winner (2021)

Bonita C. Jacobs Transfer Champion Award Winner
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University of Southern California

Dr. Estela Mara Bensimon, USC University Professor Emerita, is President of Bensimon & Associates, continuing her lifelong commitment to normalizing racial equity—helping higher education leaders, faculty, organizations, and staff feel empowered to accurately and effectively address the subject and make changes leading to improved outcomes for racially minoritized students. Known for her creation of the term “equity-minded,” Dr. Bensimon has published extensively about racial equity, organizational learning, practitioner inquiry, and change.


As Founding Director of the Center for Urban Education, which Dr. Bensimon created in 1999 and led until its merging in 2020 with the USC Race and Equity Center, she developed the Equity Scorecard—a process for using inquiry to drive changes in institutional practice and culture, increasing racial equity in higher education outcomes.


Dr. Bensimon’s efforts led to her election to the National Academy of Education and a Governor’s appointment to the Education Commission of the States; in 2020, she was honored with ASHE’s Howard Bowen Award for a Distinguished Career as well as the McGraw Prize for innovation in higher education. Her most recent book, From Equity Talk to Equity Walk: Expanding Practitioner Knowledge for Racial Justice in Higher Education, co-authored with Tia Brown McNair and Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux, was published in 2020.


Dr. Bensimon currently serves on several boards, including the Campaign for College Opportunity and Complete College America. A longtime professor of higher education at the USC Rossier School of Education, Dr. Bensimon earned her doctorate in higher education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Previous Winners: 

Debra Bragg (2019)

Charlene Stinard (2017)

E. Elaine Moore (2016)

Thomas J. Grites, Rebecca McKay, Robert T. Teranishi (2015)

Transfer Champion-Catalyst Award Winners (2022)

Transfer Champion-Catalyst Award Winners (2023)

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Executive Director

The RP Group

Dr. Darla M. Cooper, an educational leader and expert in research and evaluation, is dedicated to using inquiry, data, and evidence to improve the lives of all community college students. She currently serves as the Executive Director for the Research and Planning Group for the California Community Colleges (RP Group). Dr. Cooper has worked in the California Community College system for more than twenty years, with previous positions as institutional research director at multiple community colleges. She led Student Support (Re)defined, a landmark research project that examined what supports student success, and has been invited to present on this work at various venues across the state and nationally. She also recently served as a coach for the American Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) Pathways Project and is currently co-directing Through the Gate, a research study that examines what happens with students who appear ready to transfer but do not. Dr. Cooper has extensive experience serving as an external evaluator for several federal and private foundation grants and has worked on various other projects designed to promote student success, including the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence and the RP Group’s Bridging Research Information and Culture (BRIC) initiative.

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Assistant Director, ADVANCE Operations

George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College

Rita Snyder Furr is the Assistant Director of Operations for ADVANCE, a nationally recognized transfer pathway partnership between George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) that currently serves over 3,000 students. Her nominator wrote, “What stands out to me about Rita’s transfer work over the past decade is the level of sophistication and scale she brings to the transfer infrastructures she designs for this dual institutional initiative. It is a transformational and replicable model. And a model that I use daily as an example of excellence in transfer practice and policy.” Another recommender stated, “Her passion lies in helping students, building teams that support student learning operations, and looking closely at the practices that may impede student success. She is a tremendous advocate for students, especially as they are transitioning from the community college to Mason.”

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Executive Vice President

The Campaign for College Opportunity

Over the past decade and a half, Jessie Ryan has spearheaded efforts to simplify the transfer pathway from community colleges to four-year universities in California and currently serves as the Executive Vice President at The Campaign for College Opportunity. Her nominator explained, “Against strong opposition, Jessie succeeded in gaining the approval of significant legislation in California that has made it easier for students to transfer from community colleges to the California State University and University of California campuses (SB 1440 and AB 928).” Jessie is also a nationally recognized transfer policy leader. She serves on the Tackling Transfer Policy Advisory Board led by the Aspen Institute, on Complete College America’s policy advisory council, and on the Intersegmental Transfer Implementation Committee appointed by Governor Newsom in California. She has co-authored several reports on transfer policy, and multiple national higher education media outlets have featured her work, including Insider Higher Ed, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, EdSource, and Politico. Another recommender highlighted how Jessie draws on her own transfer experience to advocate for others: “She grew up in the California Central Valley, and given her family’s limited economic means, began her education at Sacramento City College. She later transferred to San Francisco State and earned a bachelor’s degree—a path she intimately knows is more difficult than it should be for far too many people.” Jessie’s work has made a significant impact for transfer students both in California and nationally.

Previous Winners: 

Nicholas DeFalco, Shelley Lemons (2022)

Ellen Goldberg, Lynn Tincher-Ladner, Xueli Wang (2021)

Amanda Quintero, Janie Valdes, Heather Adams, Kerin Hilker-Balkissoon (2020)

Eboni Zamani-Gallaher, John Fink, Paulina Palomino, Russell Baker (2019)

Transfer Champion-Rising Star Award Winners (2022)

Transfer Champion-Rising Star Award Winners (2024)

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Director of International and Transfer Admissions

Knox College

Jamie Blanch has worked with undergraduate and graduate students, mostly in admissions, for more than a decade. Beginning as an admissions student worker at the University of New Orleans (UNO) in 2012 while pursuing her BA in History, she eventually graduated into a career of serving students. Along the way, Jamie earned two master’s degrees—one in Liberal Arts from Tulane and one in Higher Education Administration from UNO—and she is currently completing her doctoral work at the College of William & Mary. Her dissertation will allow her to study and share research on the topic “Examining the transfer student support and transition at four-year campuses.”

After years of working in academic advising and then moving from assistant to associate director of admissions, Jamie began her latest position in August 2023. She is now the Director of International and Transfer Admissions for Knox College’s Office of Admissions, working with a former colleague from Loyola who hired her upon his move to Knox. 

A colleague, who worked with her at both Loyola and Knox, nominated her as a Rising Star, highlighting the ways that Jamie has maintained her passion for transfer students. At Knox, Jamie has increased transfer enrollment by, as her nominator wrote, “streamlining application procedures, coordinating seamless credit evaluations, and implementing tailored support services for transfer students.” Jamie is indeed a Rising Star who is making a difference in the lives of individual transfer students.

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Transfer Coordinator

University of South Alabama

In 2015, Nan Young Perez Uribe developed a passion for transfer students during her service as an advisor at the University of South Alabama (USA). Her nominator witnessed her good work in the Academic Advising & Transfer Services (AATS) department, supported her transition to the School of Engineering to advise mostly transfer students, and then welcomed her return to AATS, where she currently holds the position of Transfer Coordinator.

For the past year, Nan has worked directly with the university’s transfer students, even organizing a well-attended “Transfer Tailgate” in October 2022 before she officially assumed her new role. Since December 2022, her primary focus has been Pathway USA, an organization that partners the University of South Alabama (USA) with seven community colleges to assist students who wish to transfer. The goal, as Nan said, is “to provide a sense of belonging, connection, and confidence in their transfer” to USA. With the Transfer Team she created, composed of herself and representatives from across campus, Nan raises awareness of transfer student needs and finds ways to serve these students better. 

Through her revisions of the Transfer Center website, along with fun events like the tailgate and t-shirt swap, and one-on-one conversations with potential transfers, Nan makes students feel welcome and at home. And she doesn’t stop with current students. She also leads a team to contact students who left the university with unfinished degrees and works to help them return to their coursework. Nan is truly a Rising Star.

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Assistant Director, Transfer Center

California Polytechnical State University

With a BA in Sociology and an MA in College Student Personnel, Higher Education, and Student Affairs, Heather Domonoske has unique insight into the social, emotional, and physical needs of college students. Her leadership work with Outward Bound and as an adjunct professor teaching honors courses at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) is fertile ground for one-on-one conversations with students, making her especially sensitive to their struggles and triumphs.

After twenty months as the Lead Coordinator of the Center for Leadership at Cal Poly, she was hired as the Inaugural Coordinator and then the Assistant Director for the university’s Transfer Center. She has held the Assistant Director position for the last three years, building “a comprehensive transfer experience from scratch,” as her nominator wrote.

As part of this new experience, Heather has led Transfer Inclusion Trainings for 244 staff and faculty and nearly 400 students. Her establishment of the Transfer Onboarding Group, which involves academic advisors from across campus, has brought a more inclusive orientation to first-year transfers, focusing on the particular issues they face as new students at Cal Poly. Finally, her Transfer Student Advisory Council includes a transfer student from each college to give these students a place to offer feedback.

Other achievements of Heather’s include the Transfer Center, which offers study space, free printing, and other services just for transfers; the Transfer Academic Success Program, which assists transfers who are on academic probation; and the Transfer Center Website, which she keeps updated with consistent information relevant to transfers. With her continued commitment to improving the overall transfer experience, it is easy to see why Heather was chosen as a Rising Star.

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Coordinator, Transfer Initiatives

Missouri State University

Campbell Keele earned an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration from Three Rivers College and then transferred to Missouri State University (MSU), where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance, a Master of Business Administration, and a Graduate Certificate in Finance. She began her career at Missouri State, serving first as an Academic Advisor and Retention Specialist and now, since April 2022, as the Coordinator of Transfer Initiatives.

Campbell’s time as a transfer student made her aware of changes that could improve the transfer experience at MSU. Her nominator wrote that when Campbell worked as an advisor at the university’s College of Business, “she quickly applied her experiences as a transfer student when working with incoming transfer students to help them feel connected to campus, understand transfer credit evaluations, and cope with the inevitable transfer shock many students experience.” This work eventually led to a promotion to her current position.

As the Coordinator, Campbell offers workshops and forums to help transfer advisors learn more about their students’ unique needs in moving from a community college to a four-year university. She travels across the state and to Arkansas to attend community college transfer fairs and help students with a particular interest in MSU. Campbell’s leadership in chairing the Transfer Advising Committee, which works to streamline the transfer process, and in organizing a celebration for National Transfer Student Week show her dedication to transfers. Because of her personal experience as a transfer student, Campbell is indeed a Rising Star who, as her nominator wrote, continues “to improve transfer student experiences and to make sure they are valued as an important part of the campus community.”

Previous Winners: 

Mayra Arroyo, Jaclyn Duerr, Jacqui Rogers-Frere, Emily Tichenor (2023)
Le Quanda Cole, Megan Drangstveit, Michael DuPont, Jeffrey R. Mayo, Keith Shaw (2022)

Shannon Hayes Buenaflor, Renee Esparza, Randi Petrauskas Harris, Danyelle Tauryce Ireland (2021)

Jennifer Brown, Sara Price, Alexandrea Deerr (2020)

National Transfer Student Ambassadors (2022)

National Transfer Student Ambassadors (2024)

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University of Southern Mississippi

Ashton hoped to play football for a university and then for the NFL. He entered the football team at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College as a walk-on player, and then his story took an unexpected turn when the Covid pandemic changed the trajectory of his life. As a non-scholarship athlete, Ashton was eventually cut from the community college team and began to explore opportunities at four-year universities. He settled on the University of Southern Mississippi due to its criminal justice program. Once again, however, he was unable to play football when a new coaching staff was hired.

“I needed to pivot and find ways to make an impact on this campus,” Ashton says. “Just because football ended did not mean that my life or school was over.” He decided to dive into campus involvement, becoming a leader in various organizations like Men of Excellence and the Transfer Student Association. His favorite service opportunities involve being a mentor for transfer students and for minority freshmen.

“Although your time is short wherever you may transfer to, you can still make a difference,” Ashton insists. “You can still leave behind a legacy worth remembering.” He is certainly creating a memorable legacy at the University of Southern Mississippi and is excited to add the role of National Transfer Student Ambassador, helping professionals learn how to better serve students like him.

Learn more about Ashton's transfer journey in his pre-conference interview.

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Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Crystal started her college education twenty years ago but left school when she got married and became a mother. After several years of work in the corporate world, she felt dissatisfied. It was time to go back to college. Crystal was accepted to Texas A&M University-San Antonio, where her feeling of unrest continued. As an older student, she struggled to make connections on campus.

Undaunted, she kept going to events and found an on-campus job as Transfer Retention Student Coordinator. This job helped her realize how many resources were available for students like her, and she decided to make them more accessible to other transfers. “I did not have it all together,” Crystal said, “but the home I found on campus in the Student Engagement office empowered me to feel like it was possible. Ever since then, I knew I had to help others experience that same sense of empowerment.”

That is exactly what Crystal is doing. Knowing that transfer students can be any age and of any background, she wants to be sure they have smoother transitions to new schools. Her goal as a National Transfer Student Ambassador is to “guarantee that students don’t have to go searching for help, but rather have resources find them before they even realize they need them.” 

Learn more about Crystal's transfer journey in her pre-conference interview.

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University of Utah

Emily had to support her own college education, so she was grateful to receive a scholarship from Salt Lake Community College. As she began her first year, she served as a student ambassador, communicating with high school students about the benefits of community college. Then, as president of the Student Association, she explored how to help students at her school transfer to four-year universities.

In spite of this preparation, Emily’s first few weeks as a transfer student at the University of Utah were discouraging. She missed the close-knit community of her two-year school and felt that she was becoming just another number in a database.

Her determination kept her going, and she found a job in a new office for Transfer Student Success. Transfer students, Emily said, “are driven, focused students who hold higher retention and graduation rates than the students who have only studied in their current institutions. Because of this, our needs are different. We are encouraging institutions to rethink the transfer experience and provide a holistic approach in how we serve the population.”

As a National Transfer Student Ambassador, Emily looks forward to helping institutions, including the University of Utah, better support new and current transfer students with a community.

Learn more about Emily's transfer journey in her pre-conference interview.

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Rider University

Sam had to leave her first undergraduate program when the costs were too high for her to manage. She also felt unsure about her chosen field of study and began to see her withdrawal as a “blessing in disguise.” She worked hard to pay off debt and began studying mathematics at Bucks County Community College.

Through the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society, introduced to her by a transfer advisor, Sam earned a full tuition scholarship to Rider University in New Jersey. She changed her major to computer science and was thrilled when Rider extended her scholarship to a fifth year so she could complete her requirements.

Sam has worked as a Transfer Ambassador at Rider and is now the Lead Tour Guide for potential transfer students, sharing her story with them. “Being a first-generation working college student,” she said, “it felt uncomfortable starting a new school in person without knowing anybody. Although things felt uneasy during the first few weeks, I knew my purpose was to inspire and help other transfer students navigate their journeys.”

Sam has served on the Dean’s Council, interned with IBM, and works as a Software Engineering Aide at Lockheed Martin, but she says her “proudest achievement is becoming the Founder and President of Rider’s first transfer student organization, the Transfer Student Association.” 

Learn more about Sam's transfer journey in her pre-conference interview.

Previous Winners: 

Atziri C. Regalado Juarez, Jolynna Dang, Juan "Oso" Bran-Gudiel, Emily Armlin (2023)

Jan Paolo Canteras, Herman Luis Chavez, Noelle Dana, Katherine Ibsen (2022)

Dipti Karnani, Michael Morgan, Keirra Scott, Emily Sturm (2021)

Kaylee Cheng, Jahine Grady, Tanya Nasrollahi, Macia Outlaw (2020)

NISTS Research Grant Winner (2024)

NISTS Research Grant Winners (2022)
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Project Director for TRIO Support Services

Wenatchee Valley College

Ph.D. student, Department of Education Studies at UC San Diego

Transfer is a Family Affair: Understanding How Latinx Transfer Students and their Families Co-Construct Transfer Decisions

Through geographic information systems, platicas, and testimonios, this mixed-methods study examines how Latinx community college students co-construct transfer decisions with their families and how these decisions are shaped by racial, geographic, and sociopolitical contexts. Implications of this study will inform the design of intentional and culturally-responsive practical interventions to better support Latinx transfer success.

In this study, Valdovinos uses college-conocimiento to examine the transfer choice decisions and experiences of Latinx community college students over time as they navigate each stage of the transfer choice process. College-conocimiento (Acevedo-Gil, 2017) is a framework used to center the lived experiences of Latinx college students by acknowledging that their college choice decisions and experiences are nonlinear and are shaped by individual’s intersectional identities within the inequitable distribution of institutional resources in the American K-12 educational system (Acevedo-Gil, 2017).

This study has important and urgent implications for closing racial transfer equity gaps through theory development of the lived experiences that accurately represent the transfer pathways of Latinx community college students and, in turn, helps with reimagining and transforming transfer policies and practices that center the experiences of Latinx students and their families.

Previous Winners:


Dustin Grote (PI), Weber State University, and David Reeping (Co-PI), University of Cincinnati (2022 Winner)
Developing a Theory of Curricular Complexity for Transfer Students: Establishing Content and Construct Validity 

Shannon Hayes Buenaflor (PI) and Alberto Cabrera (Co-PI), University of Maryland (2022 Winner)
Transfer Efficacy and Goal Orientation Among Potential Transfer Students: An Exploratory Study

Jason Mastrogiovanni (PI), Texas A&M University (2020 Winner)
Collaboration in Transfer Student Work: A Cultural Historical Activity Theory Study at Four-Year Institutions

Catherine Hartman (PI) & Jeffrey Mayo (Co-PI), University of Texas at Austin (2018 Winner)
Examining Vertical and Horizontal Transfer Student Experiences and Identity Development at Four-Year Institutions in Texas

Barbara K. Townsend Dissertation Winner (2021)

Barbara K. Townsend Dissertation Winner (2023)

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University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Persistence of Engineering Transfer Students: Identifying Student-Influenced and Institution-Influenced Academic Success

Due to the shortage of knowledge, further empirical research is necessary to determine how institutional context at receiving institutions either promotes or detracts from the academic performance and the persistence of engineering transfer students. Understanding the institutional characteristics experienced by vertical transfer students in engineering majors at four-year institutions is crucial in understanding their overall adjustment, and was the guiding purpose of this dissertation study.

The overarching goal of the dissertation was to examine the student and institutional factors that influence the academic success and persistence of vertical transfer students pursuing baccalaureate engineering degrees in the UNC System. 

Four research questions were explored:

  1. How do student and institutional factors predict first term academic success?

  2. How do institution-influenced factors moderate the relationship between pre-transfer academic factors and first-term academic success?

  3. How do student and institutional factors predict baccalaureate engineering degree attainment?

  4. How do institution-influenced factors moderate the relationship between post-transfer academic factors and baccalaureate engineering degree attainment?

This study contributes to the research on engineering transfer students by using advanced statistical methods to explore statewide, longitudinal data. Multi-institutional or statewide samples allow for a greater understanding of how higher education system structures within states promote or detract from the persistence of engineering transfer students. Specifically, this study yielded findings that can better help to understand how differences in college/department of engineering environment (i.e., Carnegie Classifications and college/department of engineering's faculty makeup and average class size) impact students' academic success during the first semester and their persistence to baccalaureates.

Previous Winners:

Dustin M. Grote, Virginia Tech (2021) 
Enhancing the Community College Transfer Pathway: Exploring Aspects of Transfer Receptivity at 4-Year Institutions in Engineering

Laura W. Yavitz, University of Nevada, Las Vegas (2019)
Vertical Transfer and Baccalaureate Completion for Adult Community College Students: Milestones and Momentum Points that Matter

Dalinda Martinez, Michigan State University (2016)
Transitioning: The Transfer Student Experience 

Loni Bordoloi Pazich, New York University (2015)
Influencing Transfer and Baccalaureate Attainment for Community College Students: Quasi-Experimental Evidence from Texas

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