Transfer students find support and build community
October 24, 2019
One in five students who graduate from Virginia Tech come to campus as a transfer, some from community college and others transferring from major universities across the United States. Their personal and professional goals vary as much as their majors and intended academic paths.
“Our transfer students come from unique and diverse backgrounds and should be recognized, celebrated, and appreciated for the different ways they contribute and enrich the Hokie community," said Nasim Schwab, assistant director for Transfer Student Initiatives. "My goal is for Virginia Tech’s transfer students to feel at home the moment they matriculate. I want our transfer students to know they are an important and a vital part of the Hokie community.”
Mason Stoecker, who transferred from Thomas Nelson Community College in the fall of 2018 to double major in physics and mathematics and earn a minor in computer science, said that transfer students face their own distinct demands.
“Transfer students in particular have some specific and unique challenges when arriving to a new school," Stoecker said. "Oftentimes they understand the basis for how to succeed in an academic environment, but they do not know about specific policies and programs at Virginia Tech."
Schwab noted that these concerns have not gone unnoticed by the university.
“I focus on creating onboarding programs that create a welcoming and inclusive transfer student community by connecting transfer students to each other, to campus resources, campus events, student organizations, their departments, and colleges in efforts to ease their transition to Virginia Tech," Schwab said. "Additionally, I want all transfer students to be aware of the social, academic, and professional opportunities available to enrich and enhance their experiences at Virginia Tech.”
In addition to working to expand resources that support these students, which include things like transfer-specific courses, mentorship programs, and living-learning communities, Virginia Tech is highlighting the unique transfer student experience for National Transfer Student Week, which took place Oct. 21 - 25.
Developing a sense of belonging at Virginia Tech through transfer courses
Aleia Warren, a senior majoring in civil engineering, transferred from Virginia Highlands Community College for the fall 2017 semester. Like many students, she started out at a community college to take time deciding on her major while saving money and preparing to set out on her own once she transferred to a larger university.
Warren credited a transfer-only course in her major for first helping her with the transition, noting how it provided support and helped her develop a sense of belonging at Virginia Tech.
“I wasn’t sure where or how to meet others, other than in my Foundations of Engineering class, ENGE 1414, which is the transfer equivalent of ENGE 1215 and 1216," Warren said. "It was my favorite class my first semester because it solely consisted of engineering transfer students."
Other departments and majors at Virginia Tech also have transfer-specific courses or class sections, such as agriculture and life sciences; human nutrition, foods, and exercise; natural resources and environment; and psychology, among others.
Still, Warren is quick to point out that the transfer process required quite an adjustment.
“In my first semester, I felt isolated from the student body," Warren said. "I didn’t feel like I truly fit in with the other students in my classes or the freshmen I lived with in the campus dorms. Unlike the students in my major classes, I knew very little about campus, the professors in my major, the resources available to me, Canvas, and Blacksburg. But unlike the freshmen, I already knew what to expect in terms of college course workload."
In addition to the transfer-specific courses within some departments and majors, in the spring of 2019 Virginia Tech piloted a one-credit transition course created through collaboration with Academic Advising Initiatives and First-Year Experiences (FYE@VT). UNIV 2984: Unleash Your Hokie Potential is specially designed for transfer students to encourage and facilitate their success.
Rex Waters, associate director of Undergraduate Academic Programs for the Office of First-Year Experiences, said, “The desired outcome of this class is for these students to get to know their peers as they gain the ability and commitment necessary for them to align their actions with their life plan, be flexible, and embrace all that Virginia Tech has to offer.”
Due to popular demand, the transition class now consists of three sections, each taught by an instructor and accompanied by two peer mentors. A key component of the course is an overnight retreat held early in the semester, just as many transfers are getting to know about the campus and its resources, which provides an opportunity for incoming transfers to get to know their peers in the transfer course on a deeper level.
“Beginning with the retreat, and then throughout the course, students start their VT journey by reflecting on who they are, what is important, and where they want to go in life. They begin to identify the people they need around them to support their goals and dreams,” Waters said.
“This trip was much needed and fostered a sense of community spanning across the Hokie Potential courses. This trip to Smith Mountain Lake was a very eye-opening trip that introduced me to many of my counterparts at Virginia Tech,” Senya Dedoo said. Dedoo, a sophomore majoring in business information technology who transferred from Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale this fall, is one of the students currently taking the class, which was recommended by his advisor.
Resources outside the classroom
In addition to special courses dedicated to transfers, there are a variety of other resources for transfer students, such as mentorship programs and a transfer living-learning community (LLC). Stoecker, who chose Virginia Tech because he thought it would be a good fit for his personality and academic goals, credits these transfer resources for fostering his sense of belonging at the university.
Last year, he was among the first transfer mentees who worked with Hokie Connect, a free peer mentor program that runs the first six weeks of each semester. The program, which has doubled in size and event attendance from its first year, connects incoming transfer students with currently enrolled Virginia Tech transfer students. Hokie Connect mentors work with new transfer students to help them find community and integrate into life at Virginia Tech, answering questions they have at that time and serving as a go-to resource for various concerns.
In addition, Stoecker also takes part in the LLC for transfer students. “We all have really gotten to know each other and have developed some close friendships thanks to the mentor program, as well as the LLC,” he said.
Like Stoecker, Riley Boyd, who transferred in fall of 2017 from Kutztown University to major in public relations and minor in diversity and community engagement, emphasized that the mentor program is essential for incoming transfers. Boyd said that Hokie Connect is a “one-of-a-kind” organization and that she appreciates how it offers activities and events that allow transfer students to mingle and get more comfortable at Virginia Tech.
“One of my favorite events of the semester is our ‘welcome social’ where everyone meets each other,” she said. Boyd, who has returned to be a mentor for a second year, said that her impact on other transfers has manifested itself in different ways.
“I have felt that I have directly helped a transfer student by making them aware of specific Virginia Tech resources. Since our campus is so big, it's hard to know everything our school as to offer. One student mentee enjoyed my recommendation to use the Writing Center at Newman Library. I think these programs are important for transfer students because we can all support each other. Transferring can be a difficult process, and this transition period is easier when you can talk to other students who have already transferred,” Boyd said.
Transfer students guiding transfer students
Because of his positive experiences as a mentee last year, Stoecker returned to the program this year as a mentor. “Mentoring and being in the leadership council has been a very enjoyable and rewarding experience for me because it has always been a goal of mine to help other people, and it’s so important to be able to be there for other transfer students,” Stoecker said.
When it comes to being a transfer student, Stoecker and Boyd are not alone in their desire to "pay it forward" to help others who are now where they once were. Warren, who took a transfer course within her major, also opted to be a mentor to other transfers.
“I have served as a mentor for both years of the program. I love meeting new transfers, learning why they transferred, and helping them find activities at VT that interest them. Virginia Tech has so many great programs that there is something for everyone, and being a mentor gives me the opportunity to serve and guide other transfer students as they navigate their transition to VT. I work to provide them with transitional support beyond what many other transfers and I received previously,” Warren said.
Others have found ways to help transfer students by working with them in the classroom. Isabelle Leonard, a junior majoring in dairy science with a minor in animal and poultry sciences, transferred from Cornell University to Virginia Tech in the spring of 2019 and took part in the pilot version of the Unleash Your Hokie Potential course.
Leonard was so inspired by her enrollment and experiences in the transfer course during her first semester at Virginia Tech that she wanted to dedicate time to serve as a guide to new transfer students, so she now serves as a peer mentor for the class.
As a peer mentor, Leonard said that her goal is to provide assistance to fellow transfer students by answering questions and directing them to all of the resources available, not just as transfer students, but for all Hokies in general. As someone who has been through this experience herself, she works hard to make the experiences of other transfers as memorable as possible in making connections.
After all, Leonard said, “just last semester, I was new like them.”
Please visit the University Academic Advising Center website for more information about transfer student advising. In addition to its regular support of transfer students, Virginia Tech is celebrating transfers during National Transfer Student Week 2019.
Written by Rachel Kinzer Corell and Abigail Mercatoris-Morrison