New Student Programs works to bridge gap for transfer students

While the majority of students join the Baylor bear family as freshmen, there are many students who join later in their college journey. Along with that comes transition, growth and even hardships, some student transfers explained. Photo courtesy of New Student Programs.

By Savannah Cooper | Reporter

Every fall and spring semester, the Baylor community grows with transfer students. A transfer student is defined by anyone who’s taken academic course credit after their high school graduation date with some exceptions. However, transfer students experience their various transfer experiences at different parts in the year.

No two transfer students are the same — some are freshmen who took a gap year; some are athletes who are eligible to practice in the spring; some are veterans here on the G.I. Bill; some are first generation college students who needed to get their finances in order.

Five years ago, Transfer Student Success Center director Joe Oliver became the inaugural holder of the position. He saw a lack of support on campus for students after they matriculate through admissions and welcome weekend activities.

“I was the first person on campus to think through what does it mean to support and care for transfer students once they get here,” Oliver said. “They’re wonderful folks in admissions who focused on transfer students, but once they got here how are they supported, cared for and how do we help them out. That’s my role.”

Oliver said his personal affinity for transfer students is so strong because he transferred twice while pursuing his undergraduate degree. Through his experience, he said he knows firsthand how challenging it can be.

“My particular interest had to due with the fact that my personal experience as a transfer student. I transferred twice, so I went to three different schools. One semester at a large state university, another at a private Christian college and then I transferred again to another private liberal arts Christian college. So with that experience, I knew the challenges that came with that.”

According to Baylor Institutional Research and Testing, in fall 2018, there were 352 transfers.

Mount Pleasant senior transfer, Rachel Fernandez, first learned about Baylor when she was in eighth grade. She said the beauty of Baylor’s campus instantly captured her and stayed with her all the through high school when it was time to apply for college.

As a first generation college student, Fernandez said she wasn’t fully aware of the requirements to apply to Baylor, such as taking the ACT and/or the SAT. With that lack of knowledge, Fernandez spent a year at Northeast Texas Community College and applied to Baylor as a transfer and was accepted. Her dream become reality.

Fernandez said she found herself in a place of isolation that she didn’t see coming. It’s called transfer shock, the moment when you can’t connect with fellow first year students because your age and stage in college isn’t reflective of theirs.

“You can’t connect with those who are doing the traditions for the first time because the people you were suppose to do it with have already done it,” Fernandez said.

In chapel, Fernandez said she couldn’t find a familiar face. In the classroom, Fernandez she she was surrounded by jargon that recurring students wouldn’t think twice about like how to use GroupMe or what office hours are. With that disconnect, Fernandez said she felt isolated.

“Nobody there resonated with me because I was a transfer and because they’d all been there for a while,” Fernandez said. “I was isolated in the classroom because I didn’t know how to interact with them and it immediately affected my grades.”

With the significantly drop in her grades, Fernandez said she went to Oliver’s office toward the end of her first semester and asked if she made the right decision to come to Baylor. Oliver reassured Fernandez that all her feelings are typical of transfer students and to give it one more semester and report back. She said he also advised her to get involved in two things, something that will be her joy and something that will help her professionally.

Due to the varied degree of difficulty of coursework for students, each department has a committee that determines whether a transfer students previous coursework meets the standards on a similar class on Baylor’s campus. Fernandez said she wasn’t set back too much as she applied with 66 credits and was granted 36 of them at Baylor.

As the spring 2018 semester rolled around, Fernandez said she started getting plugged in with the pre-law society and got involved with the transfer student office. She said she also picked up on the lingo and started to flourish on campus.

In the spring 2018 semester, a new program started underneath the transfer student umbrella, that’s goal is to help students with each step along the way during their transition. There are three groups: transfer ambassadors, transfer mentors and transfer event team with three student leaders overseeing each respective group.

The transfer ambassadors represent Baylor on the front end. They reach out to prospective and incoming transfer students before they arrive letting them know that someone is on campus thinking about them.

Transfer mentors meet one on one with transfer students once they get to campus and support them individually. They meet frequently in the first six weeks of the semester to answer any and all questions, offer help and be a familiar face to hear them out.

Transfer event team plans events that are helpful to transfer students to help with their overall transition to collegiate life.

Fernandez joined this team of volunteers and she she wanted to become the exact person she needed when she first arrived on campus. Through the course of her work, she said she now feels as though she’s become a Baylor bear.

“It’s seeing my transfer ambassador kids who fully took my advice, got plugged in and are doing amazing, doing successful – that is the moment I was like I’m a Baylor bear, I was here for these students and I’m the reason that they are not having to struggle like I did,” Fernandez said.

During the spring semester, the several hundred students reduces down to just around 150 transfers depending on the year.

Unlike fall semester, most people on Baylor’s campus aren’t on the lookout for new students. Oliver said he knows that some Baylor students might not be on the lookout for new students in the spring semester. However, he said he has worked to make their welcome worth while.

“In January, virtually no one is looking out for new students,” Oliver said. “I don’t mean that in a way that people don’t care about them I mean that everyone assumes that the new students come in the fall. When there’s a 150 new students in the spring, very few folks have new students on their radar. They’re thinking, almost because it’s true, that everyone is settled, knows their way around, knows how to finds their books, knows what is expected of them in the classroom.”

Spring transfer students have a welcome weekend ran by new student programs. The weekend starts on Friday and ends on Sunday. Within that short time frame, there’s a lot packed in. Students meet their peers, learn from prominent university administrators like President Livingstone and Vice President for Student Life, Kevin Jackson, go bowling in the Bill Daniel Student Center and have a night out in Waco.

After that eventful weekend, spring transfers embark on navigating through campus for a full week of classes. Oliver describes such a shift like flooring the gas pedal on a short ramp.

“Once the school year hits, it’s like going from 0 to 60 miles an hour really quickly on a very short on ramp,” Oliver said. “Sometimes they (transfer students) don’t have all the information they need just because it’s such a limited time.With all that transition, comes a lot of missed communication or no opportunity for communication.”

In spring 2017, one of the 150 new students to campus was Belleville, Il senior Alexandra (Lexi) Donnel. Donnel heard about Baylor through her now financé as they attended several football games. Her memories of transfer welcome weekend were chilly, thirty-degree days filled with basketball chants and meeting tons of new faces, which for an introvert was extremely tiring but ultimately helpful.

Unlike first-year students, transfers aren’t required to live on campus their first year at Baylor. That lack of a requirement made it difficult for Donnel to make friends she said.

“Not living on campus probably made the experience more difficult,” Donnel said. “I had privacy and no real need to be around others after classes. It was an effort to make friends since I didn’t live around a lot of other people.”

Fernandez said she feels fully prepared for whatever step life takes her next thanks to her time spent at Baylor.

“The confidence Baylor has given me, now that I’m a fully accumulated student makes me unstoppable.”