Author: Danielle Iannelli, M.Ed., Transfer Student Services Coordinator at Florida Atlantic University
Transfer Student Services – A Backstory:
Florida Atlantic University is a public four-year research institution with over 30,000 students, and six regional campuses. Out of those 30,000 students, half of the population is comprised of transfer students. Of that, 52.3% are part-time students and 95.8% are commuter students. Additionally, 55.4% of these students fall between the ages of 18-24 years old (Data Source: FAU Institutional Effectiveness and Analysis Dashboards). By evaluating this data, it was evident that FAU needed and wanted to define how the university was going to “work with transfer students…”.
“Working with transfer students is…”
This is a sentence we have all worked to complete in our own individual way, whether that is in Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, or Enrollment Management. Some individuals in the Higher Education field complete this sentence with words like “exciting” and “invigorating”, whereas others may say, “challenging”. Working in the transfer field, individuals like myself have learned that the way in which we complete this sentence truly defines the environment we are creating for our transfer student population.
“Working with Transfer Students starts with creating a Campus Conversation”
The foundation of the Transfer Student Services Office at FAU began with conversations regarding the significance of our transfer students. The FAU campus conversation started with guidance from the Vice President for Student Affairs. The VPSA provided leadership and support for key stakeholders to research transfer services at other institutions. This led to the Student Affairs funded Transfer Transition staff. Following this, the Transfer Transition staff expanded into the Transfer Student Services Center via a partnership between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs.
In 2016, the campus conversation propelled further with the development of the Transfer Taskforce. This taskforce reviews and establishes best practices for working with a transfer student population. For example, the taskforce delves into current systematic policies and procedures and evaluates the impact they may have on the transfer student experience. The dedication of the FAU leadership, the passion from the original Transfer Transition staff (as well as current Transfer Student Services staff), and the commitment from the Transfer Taskforce have continued to ignite a powerful conversation at FAU on transfer student needs.
The transfer student conversation(s) continue daily in the Transfer Student Services Center (TSS). The TSS Center, as mentioned above, began through a partnership between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs (See: Graphic to Left).
The TSS center is comprised of a Transfer Admissions Coordinator, a Transfer Student Services Coordinator, and a Transfer Advising Coordinator. The TSS Center was given the task of assisting prospective, incoming, and current transfer students through the entirety of their transition into FAU. As a team, the TSS Center has the ability to guide transfer students through the application and admissions process, advise them on their credit equivalencies and major declaration, aid them in finding their community at the university, and advocate their needs as transfer “Owl-lies” (Note: FAU’s mascot is an Owl).
As transfer “Owl-lies” the TSS’s, the Transfer Taskforce’s, and the Division’s role is to continue to talk about why transfer students are important, why we must consider their transitional challenges, why we must celebrate their identity, and why we must reframe the definition of a “new student” at FAU. These conversations are the milestones that universities; like FAU, need to have in order to shape a positive and inclusive campus environment for transfer students. This goal has driven the TSS staff to define our individual roles as “Owl-lies” by finishing our own individual sentences…
Finding the End of My Sentence:
“Working with transfer students is Challenging”
In my role as the Transfer Student Services Coordinator, I use the Theory of Transition to influence the relationships I have with transfer students. In Schlossberg’s Theory of Transition, it is explained that a “transition exists only if it is so defined by the individual experiencing it” (Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton, & Renn, 2010, p.215). This statement immediately brings to mind the challenge I have encountered in my role at FAU: finding and developing a transfer student community.
The challenge of creating a transfer student community stems from the vast identities that reside within the transfer student population and their own personal definition of transition. These students may have a number of obligations: taking care of families, working full-time, balancing commuting and taking classes, and even finding their footing after taking time off from academics. Transfer students do not always have the luxury of identifying themselves as a “transfer student going through a transition”. There are days where their other identities must take priority.
Through the programs I led, I have witnessed the cognitive dissonance that these students experience in balancing these identities. While attendance at these events has not been astronomical, it is not the lack of attendance that stays with me. Instead, it is the conversations I have with those students who are unable to attend the events. I constantly hear that a specific time does not work because it conflicts with their work schedule or that they are only on campus for a few hours and cannot afford to spare an hour away from their academics. I have learned that the challenge in creating a transfer student community lies in meeting our students where they are. Despite facilitating programming (in both virtual and in-person components) and hosting programs at various times and days of the week, I have yet to find exactly where my transfer students are. This taught me that working with transfer students is challenging, but that the challenge is important.
“Working with transfer students is Important”
The importance of working with transfer students is something that began for me through my own transfer experience. After transferring from a small four-year private vocational institution to a mid-sized four-year public institution, I became aware of the importance of helping students like myself succeed. As a young college student, I did not realize I was falling prey to transfer shock. My feelings of inadequacy as a student, my confusion about my student status, and my lack of community, were all a direct result of that shock. Fortunately, this personal experience led me down a path in Higher Education where I have had the opportunity to share my personal story, advocate for transfer students, and much more. Most recently, this path led me to my current Transfer Student Services Coordinator role. Here I am continuously reminded of the importance in advocating for this population, as well as the importance of affirming their fears, emotions, and confusion.
Advocating for transfer students and affirming this population in their decision to transfer, stems from the overarching impact of transfer student stereotypes. Reframing and correcting transfer student stereotypes is one of the prominent roles of any transfer office. In our staff retreat, we dedicated the majority of our time to discussing these stereotypes and deciphering where they may stem from.
One stereotype we focused on was the misconception that transfer students hold a ‘too cool for school’ persona and are perceived to ‘not want to be at the institution’. Through evaluating this stereotype we discerned that this generalization stems from staff at institutions being expert blind. In other words, faculty and staff and are not questioning themselves and their established actions, which is a hindrance to new transfer students. For example, a faculty member may not take the time to explain basic procedures in upper level courses, such as reviewing the syllabus or the online course modules, because it may be assumed that all of the upper-level students should know those by now. This assumption, may lead transfer students to disassociate with their faculty and as a result exhibit this misunderstood ‘too cool for school’ persona.
This example is one of many that our staff found, but it was through this reframing process that we were reminded of the importance in both advocating for this population and educating the campus community on how to best serve transfer students. At our staff retreat we were reminded that working with transfer students is indeed important and that we must not forget the meaning behind why we are working with these students.
“Working with transfer students is Meaningful”
“You’re the first person who has sat down with me and answered all my questions”
“You saved my life!”
“I am going to look at graduate schools at FAU because of how great your service was.”
“After getting an individual phone call from [a Transfer Staff member] and hearing how warm and welcoming she was, I immediately changed my decision to transfer to [a different Florida Institution] and decided to transfer to FAU!”
“Thank you for your support and I’m so glad to have you as our Transfer Advisor! I am hopeful in our goal and to have students providing support for each other and making everyone feel better in their transition to FAU.”
(Please note: some quotes have been adlibbed for the purposes of this blog)
Working with transfer students can be challenging. At times, that challenge can overshadow the meaning behind why we are working these students. The quotes above are from transfer students who have worked with the staff in our Transfer Student Services Office over the past seven months at FAU. These students remind us of the meaning behind guiding a student through their transition.
Transfer students, like the ones above, are experiencing their own personal challenges and we must remember that their transitional challenges are ones that we can help to alleviate. Although we may not be able to help prevent any of their personal challenges we can help provide them with the support they need to succeed academically. It is important to remember that we are the advocates, the voice, the allies, and the support for these students.
Therefore, the “why” for my role and myself became clear: I am helping this population, because they need my support and voice to succeed. I am working with transfer students because it is meaningful.
Completing The Sentence:
Through the variety of my roles of being a transfer student, working alongside transfer Higher Education professionals, and becoming a Higher Education Professional, I’ve seen and witnessed the challenge, the importance, and the meaning of guiding transfer students through their transition into a new university and a new community. This multifaceted transfer student experience is one that drives us to passionately and excitedly complete the sentence of “working with transfer students is…”. At Florida Atlantic University and in the Transfer Student Services Center, we finish that sentence differently on a daily basis, but our vision remains the same: to create a welcoming and inclusive experience for all of our transfer students. In conclusion, I urge you all to consider: How do you and your university complete the sentence?
Danielle Iannelli, M.Ed., serves as the Transfer Student Services Coordinator at Florida Atlantic University. In this position, Danielle works to create an inclusive transfer student community via planning programs, facilitating workshops, collaborating across campus with various offices, and continuing the conversation about transfer students. She began working in the Transfer & Transition field of Higher Education after she herself transferred to a new institution as an undergraduate student. Danielle is involved with and attends many national conferences focused on the transfer experience, such as the National Institute of Transfer Students, and The Association for Orientation, Transition, and Retention Conference. Danielle holds a B.S. in Communication Studies from Appalachian State University, and a M.Ed. from the University of Georgia. To contact Danielle, you can email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evans, N.J., Forney, D.S., & Guido, F.M., Patton, L.D. & Renn, K.A. (2010). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
FAU Institutional Effectiveness and Analysis Dashboards