The sun was setting as transfer students gathered together on Dexter Lawn. It was the first week of fall quarter and the first social event of the year for the Association of Transfer Students (ATS), a social club for Cal Poly transfer students looking to find a community of fellow transfers on campus. 

Each year Cal Poly accepts hundreds of new transfer students from various community colleges and other four-year universities. Transfers come into Cal Poly with at least 60 units under their belt and need to quickly adjust to the fast pace of the quarter system. According to ATS President liberal studies senior Kaylee Benting, trying to make friends can be difficult for many transfer students. 

“It can be really challenging to navigate Cal Poly and figure out what is expected of you, how to get involved and how to make friends,” Benting said. 

The roughly 50-person club aims to help transfers build that community and connect new transfers with returning transfers  to help guide them in their Cal Poly journey. ATS has meetings every other week and frequently holds social events every quarter. The club has taken trips to Morro Bay and Arroyo Grande and has had movie nights on campus. 

Students at Brookshire farms | Credit: Courtesy of Erika Szaldobagyi

Benting said that transfers are often left to figure out campus life on their own, while freshmen have a community of other first-time students all around them. 

“With transfers, some people think you’re too old to not know where you’re going,” Benting said. “So we like to break that stigma and give transfers opportunities to explore.”

When Benting heard many transfers were unaware that their student IDs came with the City’s free bus service, she organized an outing where members took the bus to explore Downtown. 

Getting around town isn’t the only issue transfers face at Cal Poly. Agricultural science senior Gen Galdamez transferred into Cal Poly in fall 2021 as an animal science major, but soon realized she wanted to study business instead.

She quickly found out that as a transfer student, she was unable to change her major into the school of business. She couldn’t petition to get into the school of business despite having done many of the required courses.

While she wanted to study agriculture business, she settled for agriculture science, which allowed her to take a mix of business and communications classes. 

On top of navigating academics and a new campus, transfers struggle to find community at Cal Poly.

When engineering management grad student Erika Szaldobagyi transferred to Cal Poly in fall 2020, she felt isolated from other students due to the on-campus housing COVID-19 restrictions. 

“It was hard for me to make friends,” Szaldobagyi said. “Normally in your first year, you have the opportunity to socialize and meet new people, but it was very difficult when you’re just trapped in one building for your whole day and night.”

While ATS was very small and mostly virtual that year, the club gave her the connection she was missing. Szaldobagyi said that group members bonded over being transfer students and coming from unique backgrounds and upbringings. 

“It was kind of the highlight of my week because I was so isolated,” Szaldobagyi said. “It was like having a core group of friends that you’ve never met before, but you just instantly connect with.” 

ATS members at Doc Bernstein | Credit: Courtesy of Erika Szaldobagyi

While many transfer students go to the Transfer Center for resources and academic support, ATS is there to give social and community support. 

As a Latina student, Galdamez was hesitant to transfer into Cal Poly since she knew it was a Predominantly White Institution; but she decided to give it a chance. Getting a job as a student assistant at the Transfer Center gave her the community she was looking for. 

“That was the place where I felt the most safe and I felt like I could find my group of people,” senior agriculture science major Galdamez said. “It was really nice to go to the Transfer Center and see people like me.” 

However, as much as she liked the Transfer Center, it served as more of an academic space and she and other transfers craved a more social space. While ATS had been around for a few years, it was fizzling out over the pandemic and only had a few members. So Galdamez and Benting got together to revamp the club. 

When Szaldobagyi first joined ATS in 2020, the club consisted of six regular members who met on Zoom. Szaldobagyi says that while this was a great outlet at that time, she wanted to expand the club more in fall 2021 when she became club president. However, she found it difficult to attract new members. When she became a Week of Welcome (WOW) leader in 2021, she made it her mission to spread the word.

“I tried to advertise the club to my WOWies so that maybe they could pass it on to their transfer friends,” Szaldobagyi said. “But it was still a pretty small group during last year. We still kept the word out but I don’t know, people just were not into clubs.” 

However, things have been turning around this year under Benting and other leaders.

“It is so cool being able to see it grow to the rate it has been,” Szaldobayi said, who now handles public relations for the club. 

Something that current ATS president Benting emphasizes is connecting first-year transfers with second-year transfers so the returning students can give advice and help out the new transfers. 

“Having that opportunity to connect with current transfers and the new transfers they get to pass down all the wisdom and experience that they have,” Benting said. 

ATS students at Doc Bernstein | Credit: Courtesy of Erika Szaldobagyi

For Galdamez, having a community of other transfers has been crucial to her Cal Poly experience.  

“It’s nice to have a group of people that are in the same situation that you’re going through,” Galamez said. “It’s really important to have this club to really enhance transfer student experience at Cal Poly.” 

Szaldobagyi’s advice to incoming transfers is to keep an open mind.

“You never know where you’re gonna find your people,” Szaldobagyi said. “But just don’t give up because I almost gave up.”