Helping transfer students transition

by Katie Granholm

As a staff member in Orientation and First-Year Programs who has spent the last six years working to improve the transition experience for new transfer students, I appreciate the Editorial BoardâÄôs perspective in its July 13 editorial, âÄúThe other first-year students.âÄù Over the past five years, many resources have been devoted to better understanding the transfer student experience.

Through the use of surveys, focus groups and other assessments, OFYP has learned a great deal about the experience of University of Minnesota transfer students. One of the most important things we have learned is how diverse they are in terms of their prior education and life experiences. OFYP tries to offer a wide range of initiatives to meet the diverse needs of this community.

As explained in the editorial, each new transfer student has a choice in deciding how he or she would like to fulfill the orientation requirement. This orientation model was introduced seven years ago as a direct response to student feedback. Some more experienced students who are already familiar with the University may choose to complete Online Orientation in advance of the required On-Campus Orientation. Other students, like those with freshman or sophomore standing, or those less familiar with the University, can choose to participate in the full-day On-Campus Orientation; the choice is up to the student.

Unlike our incoming first-year students, transfer students are much more diverse in age, number of credit hours and life experience. Rather than mandating a one-size-fits-all program, we let students play an active role in their transition by identifying the orientation option that best fits their needs.

While the primary goals of orientation are academic (focusing on advising and registration), the Transfer Welcome Day program is specifically designed to connect transfer students with each other, student leaders and involvement opportunities. Welcome programs were first held last fall and spring semesters. This fall, all incoming transfer students are invited to attend a full day of sessions and activities Sept. 3. New students have the opportunity to participate in small group sessions and workshops lead by current transfer students, take part in the Explore-U involvement and vendor fair and go on tours of campus. This event is specifically designed to help students make connections, as suggested in the editorial.

OFYP also coordinates a living and learning community for new transfers interested in living on-campus while exploring the topic of leadership. This program has been incredibly successful in helping new transfer students access leadership and engagement opportunities. Transfer students participating in this program have gone on to hold leadership positions around campus and report a great sense of community and connection. This fall the program has been expanded and is doubling in size.

Departments and units across campus are reexamining their work with transfer students. In May, over 90 University staff members participated in a Transfer Student Experience Workshop hosted by OFYP and the Office of Admissions. Staff learned about our transfer students, enrollment trends and the transfer experience. Current transfer students participated in this event by sharing their experiences and helping staff identify best practices. In addition, colleges shared new initiatives and programs specifically designed to help transfer students succeed.

The challenge in assisting transfer students lies in their diversity, the same diversity that contributes so much to our University. Staff members all around campus work very hard to assist new transfer students and it is important to validate that work while recognizing the potential to do more. I encourage those who would like to get involved with any of these initiatives to contact me in OFYP. As a transfer student advocate, I wanted to share that the Editorial BoardâÄôs commentary does not fall on deaf ears. Our office greatly appreciates the thoughts and suggestions of those interested in assisting new transfer students and welcomes potential collaborations.