Every year, thousands of students at California community colleges prepare to transfer to CSUN in the fall – and now are able to do so in the spring semester as well.
As a group, transfer students make up more than half of incoming undergraduate students each academic year, at 56%. Most are full-time, most are first-generation college students, most identify as belonging to a historically underserved group, and the majority enroll in the Colleges of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Health and Human Development, and the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics.
For most transfer students, adapting to a new campus can be daunting. No two experiences are the same, but one thing most share is the challenge of navigating various campus resources and understanding what’s available.
Ashley Kuhnley, now a rising senior and electrical engineering major, faced a particularly tough transition from community college due to a long commute at first and then difficulty finding housing near campus. She also found it overwhelming to try to sort through the campus resources she needed, Kuhnley said.
“That’s one of the things that scares transfer students moving on, the overwhelming number of resources. It’s reassuring to have them, until you need the resources and don’t know where to look because there’s so many,” she said.
To address this challenge, Kuhnley and some of her classmates formed the Transfer Student Alliance in Fall 2020, with the goal of creating a community peer group for transfer students to feel more welcome at CSUN and help them have a successful transition to the university.
The student club welcomes students of all majors and years, addressing their doubts and fears, and providing a safe space to discuss any questions they might have. The club also provides advice on how to access information and programs targeted to CSUN students.
Faculty and staff also continue to work hard to address transfer students’ concerns, offering multiple programs to ease their transition.
Two of these programs are the Mentor Collective Program and the CSUN Mentorship Program. Both are peer mentoring programs — offered online and in person, respectively — that aim to help students navigate university life by exploring campus resources and involvement opportunities.
“These programs have seen a lot of success in assisting transfer students to find resources and navigate their CSUN experience,” said Gabrielle Danis, assistant director for the Office of Student Development and Transitional Programs – the department that oversees such programs like the CSUN Peer Mentorship Program and Transfer Student Orientations. “That way, when they move on into their next year, they understand the academic, social and cultural context of CSUN.”
In addition to mentoring, CSUN also offers an online New Student Orientation option — a platform that transfer students can opt into to explore different modules with all-encompassing information about school resources. Students can access it on their own time, and the platform remains open for them to use throughout their CSUN experience. In addition to the online orientation option, CSUN offers a supplemental in-person opportunity for transfer students to build connections with others, understand the academic policies of the institution, and meet representatives of campus resources.
Another valuable resource tailored specifically for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors is AIMS2. The award-winning program partners with several community colleges to close achievement gaps, improve transfer success and increase overall graduation rates for Latina/o and low-income transfer students in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
The program assigns peer mentors and faculty mentors to participants, providing advice and a community for incoming students. Scholars in the program also work collaboratively in cohorts and receive modest stipends, along with career preparation, including research opportunities.
One of the students who has benefited from the program is Suzanne Fisher, a senior electrical engineering major who transferred to CSUN in fall 2020. Kuhnley, also an AIMS2 scholar, was assigned to Fisher as a peer mentor, helping her learn how to use her degree planner report, among other questions.
“As a transfer student, CSUN definitely made me feel welcomed to come and transfer into this school, but I think providing more information for transfer students would be helpful,” Fisher said. “A program that’s been really helpful for me is the Badge Project. They have several workshops, and they’re very informational.”
The Badge Project is a CSUN program that consists of a two-year series of workshops on topics aimed at better preparing transfer students for graduate school, research or professional careers. It focuses on STEM careers but is open to any transfer student.
Many transfer students also have found the help they needed in the wide variety of clubs available at CSUN, since these are a great way for students to learn more about their academic departments, the faculty and other opportunities available to them on campus. Clubs also foster a sense of community that otherwise might be difficult to obtain.
“That sense of belonging is always going to be part of what transfer students come in with,” said Christopher Aston, director for the office of Student Development and Transitional Programs. “They really want to come in knowing that they have an identity that’s in their own narrative and understanding how their campus is addressing who they are as an individual, and later creating a new identity that is a mixture of Matador culture with their own personal identity.”
“All of those niche groups helped me. The Transfer Student Alliance, the Disney Club [a club available to all CSUN students that centers around Disney content], it kind of made my school experience for me,” said Zainab Alam, a psychology major who transferred to CSUN in fall 2021.
Similar to clubs, Camp Matador also gives students the opportunity to connect with their community and build that sense of belonging, according to Tim Szczepanski, director of Student Engagement and Services. This experience consists of a three-day retreat, where new students get the opportunity to socialize and bond with their peers, addressing their social needs while connecting with the campus culture.
“Getting involved, even if it’s just attending a club or a workshop, or an event at the University Student Union, are things that keep [transfer students] on campus for just a little longer and make them feel connected to their campus,” said Aston.
For more information on resources available to transfer students, please visit https://www.csun.edu/undergraduate-studies/academic-first-year-experiences/links-csun-transfer-students.