Transfer students get boost from new campus programs

From a pilot housing project and new internship and career opportunities to a summer transition program and personalized help applying for admission, the campus is stepping up its efforts to help transfer students make a smoother transition to UC Berkeley from community college.

This school year, transfer students — most of them California residents — comprise 21 percent of Berkeley’s undergraduate population. (New Student Services photo)

Currently, there are 6,406 transfer students at Berkeley — 21 percent of Berkeley’s 30,574 undergraduates. Of the new transfers who arrived last fall, 82 percent were California residents, 25 percent were from underrepresented minorities and 27 percent were first-generation college students.

This sizeable population has its own set of needs and challenges and in the past few years has received increased staffing and other resources from the Transfer Student Center and the Residential and Student Services Program (RSSP).

Transitioning from a small community college to a large four-year university can be daunting. “It’s easy to feel lost and disconnected,” says Kimberly Quinto, who transferred to Berkeley last fall. “Another big change was the academic rigor of the university…The reality is that Cal can be mentally and physically draining. Programs and support groups are vital to the transfer experience.”

“One of the main challenges that transfers grapple with is maximizing their shortened time frame at Berkeley,” adds Fabrizio Mejia, assistant vice chancellor for student equity and success. “When they step onto campus, transfers already need to be planning their post-Berkeley goals, while at the same time going through the transitional processes that all students do.”

Lorena Valdez, director of the Transfer Student Center, a hub for transfer students in the Cesar E. Chavez Student Center, says the campus is deeply committed to transfers because they make Berkeley “a better university and a richer environment.”

“Their experience is unique, as they come to Cal with more college and greater life experience than students who begin as freshmen,” she says. “In the classroom, this translates into adding broader perspectives and insights to discussions.”

Starting Point Mentorship Program

Lorena Valdez (left), with student staffers Miriam Lagunas, Rosemary Karapetyan and Aurelia Mora Comacho in the transfer center. (UC Berkeley pnoto by Hulda Nelson)

Even before they apply to Berkeley, prospective transfer students are being given increased guidance from the campus’ recently-revamped Starting Point Mentorship Program, which matches more than 300 community college students with 50 Berkeley student mentors. The majority of the mentors are transfer students themselves, and they are paired with the community college students based on shared academic interests.

This outreach program was started in 1998 by former Berkeley transfer student Kathleen Jones-West, who felt community college students needed greater personalized guidance to navigate the application process. Starting Point is only open to students from California; nearly 80 percent of transfers admitted to Berkeley come from California community colleges.

Lorena Valdez, a Berkeley alumna, has built Berkeley’s transfer student services program into a national model. (UC Berkeley photo by Hulda Nelson)

“We want to expand in the future, though our program does have limited space on campus,” mentorship coordinator and Berkeley senior Corey Lowe says. “Out of the 110 or so California community colleges, we’ve reached about 70 percent of them. We’re trying our best going forward to make this program even more accessible to students.“

To qualify, students must have plans to apply to Berkeley in the near future, hold a minimum 3.0 GPA and agree to fully engage and participate in Starting Point. Mentors must enroll in a two-unit course that meets twice a week for one semester and familiarizes them with college and department policies.

The biggest advantage Starting Point provides to potential transfer students is the rare opportunity to meet with an admissions officer, either in person or over the phone, and to receive critical feedback about their applications before submission.

Lowe says the program, which also is open to transfer students who enter Berkeley in the spring, has been widely successful, despite the geographical distance between mentors and mentees. “We’ve had several mentors meet up with their mentees over break when they traveled to SoCal,” Valdez says. “Great mentorship begins with great chemistry from the start, which is why we take many things into consideration when matching pairs.”

Mentorship continues once a student is admitted to Berkeley and enrolls. Mentors offer advice on academic requirements within one’s major and tips on course selection, familiarize students with their departments and even act as liaisons between students and department heads.

“We simply care about others and have a need to help and share our experiences, “ says Lowe. “Starting Point provides that outlet for transfer students.”

Transfer Living and Learning Community

This academic year, a pilot project partnership between RSSP, the Transfer Student Center and the ASUC created housing exclusively for transfer students. The Transfer Living and Learning Community was an initiative advocated by ASUC Senator Carmel Gutherz and provides 45 transfer students with their own floor in the Maximino Martinez Commons on Channing Way.

The Transfer Living and Learning Community provides 45 transfer students with their own floor in the Maximino Martinez Commons. (Photo by Russell Abraham)

After hearing the need at a fireside chat, Chancellor Carol Christ gave the go-ahead and, along with Gutherz, staff in Residential Education, Housing Assignments and the Transfer Center planned and coordinated the implementation of this effort. Gutherz and Valdez reviewed transfer student housing applications in July 2017 and selected the first cohort for the community.

Part of living there requires attending “Education 198,” a popular one-unit course taught by Valdez, academic counselor Andrew Henry and other campus advisers. It introduces transfer students to physical and online resources on campus and helps ease students’ entry to a fast-paced research university.

Although 16 sections of the course are open to all transfer students, those living in the Transfer Living and Learning Community are all in the same section, where they engage in group work and discussions.

“Education 198” also teaches effective study tips and networking skills to prepare transfer students for the demands of upper-division classes and connecting with professors. Other topics include time management and effective writing and communication.

Golden Bear Orientation

Transfer students also benefit from changes to CalSo, the campus’s long-standing orientation program. Golden Bear Orientation (GBO), which kicked off last summer, added new events just for transfer students, to introduce them to not only to campus resources, but to career opportunities. GBO will also run a separate session for transfer students admitted for spring semester.

The new Golden Bear Orientation last August included several activities for transfer students, including a mixer where transfers networked with alumni about internships and jobs. (California Alumni Association photo by Dave Donovan)

“The purpose of a typical orientation is to welcome students to and prepare them for the university,” says Chrissy Roth-Francis, director of New Student Services. “But to go beyond and prepare them to leave the university (when they graduate) is new. Transfer students come here with a purpose, since most only have two years to spend at Berkeley. So, GBO is tailored for them, to prepare them right from the start.”

At GBO last summer, while freshmen enjoyed San Francisco tourist sites, about 1,000 transfer students visited Bay Area companies to learn about job opportunities and network with professionals. The nearly 50 companies, some run by alumni, spanned many fields, including technical, government, non-profit work and theater. Under Armour, Levi Strauss & Co., Bank of the West, the U.S. Department of Energy and the San Francisco mayor’s office were among those that welcomed the transfer students.

This networking opportunity for transfers is unique among Berkeley’s peer institutions, says Roth-Francis.

GBO leaders also organized an alumni mixer on Memorial Glade, where approximately 1,500 transfer students met 88 Berkeley alumni eager to give career advice and provide mentoring. Additionally, stops on the transfer student campus tours included the Transfer Student Center, Alumni House and the Career Center.

Some 1,500 transfer students and 88 alumni took part in the GBO mixer last summer on Memorial Glade. (California Alumni Association photo by Dave Donovan)

Cal to Career Connections, a GBO workshop, taught new transfer students about the power of networking. And  the Career Center has seen a general upward trend in the number of transfer students seeking help with resume building and job hunting.

Roth-Francis hopes to have former GBO participants as leaders for next fall’s orientation, since they can best help and guide transfer student groups. She also wants to expand the alumni mixer and company visits so eventually there will be opportunities that suit every transfer student’s interest.

Summer Transfer Transition Program

Another new pilot is the Transfer Transition Program (TTP), offered for six weeks during the summer in the form of Ethnic Studies 194B to incoming transfer students who want to explore research opportunities. Taught by Luisa Giulianetti, from the Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence, the class helps students develop ideas for research projects that would require funding or professional mentorship.

“Students develop an understanding of and facility with discipline-specific conventions, language and approaches, as well as a strengthening of their identities as scholars and researchers,” Giulianetti says.

The Transfer Student Center, in 100 Cesar Chavez Student Building, helps students who transfer to Berkeley from other colleges and universities to navigate Berkeley’s academic and cultural landscape. (UC Berkeley photo by Hulda Nelson)

The course is designed especially for first-generation, non-traditional transfer students, so they can practice a range of academic strategies, including critical reading, analytical writing and research. Similar to the Education 198 course taught during the school year, students also learn about the structure and function of a top research university.

“What a transfer student truly seeks is…insight into how to juggle an excessive reading load, information on scholarships and research opportunities, information that experienced transfer students wished had been available to them as new transfer students and places that offer support, like the Transfer Student Center,” says transfer student Heaven Taylor. “Being given a community to meet people who are making a similar adjustment is something that is essential for transfers and cannot be understated.”

The TTP experience also helps new peers become both friends and helping hands as they prepare to transition to fall semester.

“TTP gave me an inside look at what Berkeley was going to be like in the fall, so that I wouldn’t feel like a stranger,” says Paola Munoz, another transfer student. “I met two students I now go to class with, and it made me feel more secure.”

Looking ahead

In 2019, the Transfer Student Center will celebrate its 20th anniversary. The first of its kind on a UC campus, it has achieved a great deal in partnership with other key campus stakeholders, including GBO, RSSP, the Career Center and University Health Services.

Not only do transfer students learn of resources there and find community, but many also choose to work there. “I want to give other transfers the same welcoming feeling I received when I first set foot in the center,” says Rosemary Karapetyan, a student staffer who transferred to Berkeley in 2016. “It’s a space I call my second home.”

As a hub for transfers, the center – a national model built by Valdez, a Berkeley alumna – is where students learn about important resources and programs, both longstanding and new, to help them on their academic journeys.

“I learned about Major Insights, a mentoring program that pairs new transfer students (including spring admits) with continuing transfer students in the same major,” says Miriam Lagunas, who also is a student staffer at the center. “Through that program, I was able to hear about another transfer student’s experience in my major and got insight about professors, courses and extracurricular activities related to my major.”

Mejia, Valdez, Roth-Francis and many Berkeley staff members are eager to uphold existing support systems for transfer students and to spearhead new ones.

“Transfer students bring a vibrancy and depth of experience that deeply impacts the fabric of our campus community,” Mejia says. “These new expanded services are only a portion of what we need to do as a campus to make sure the infrastructure is nimble and responsive to the needs of one-third of every entering class.”