English junior Viridiana Camorlinga remembers the moment she opened the email. For the first time in her life, she was on academic probation. Her stomach dropped.
Yes, she had had personal issues. Yes, her pre-existing anxiety had become worse. But her main issue, she said, was trying to navigate through Cal Poly as a transfer student, a status she said left her without adequate support.
Before long, it got even worse. She soon realized the services offered by the university to help freshmen on academic probation (AP) were not available to her because she was a transfer.
After going on academic probation, Camorlinga received an email from Cal Poly stating she was assigned to complete the First-Year Success Program, which she had to take the beginning of the next term. The email said this was a required workshop located in her portal.
Camorlinga went to her portal but was unable to find the link anywhere. She then contacted the Mustang Student Success Center and received a correction email. The correction email said she would soon be contacted by her college. Then, she said, after the university realized she was not a freshman, she was told to get a paper signed by an advisor in her college and that she was to figure the rest out on her own. The resources available to freshmen on AP were not made available to her.
“I wanted these resources, but I wasn’t able to get a hold of them,” Camorlinga said. “I would have wanted to to do the First-Year Success Program, but I couldn’t because they don’t have a program like that for transfers students’ success.”
“I wanted these resources, but I wasn’t able to get a hold of them”
Electrical engineering senior Alejandro Bupara has experienced Cal Poly both as a freshman and a transfer student. Bupara attended Cal Poly as a freshman for a year, went to community college for three years and came back as a junior to Cal Poly.
“As a first year, I felt like there was a lot more set-up, not just in terms of what was offered, but how [Cal Poly] would help connect me to it and as a returning student,” Bupara said. “The only reason I was able to navigate what resources were here for me was that I had the benefit of already being here. If I was a fresh transfer I don’t know if I would’ve been able to navigate at all.”
Like Camorlinga, Bupara went on AP in Spring 2018. Bupara, who identifies as a Latinx student, noted that this was the same quarter former Lambda Chi Alpha member Kyler Watkins wore Blackface to a fraternity event.
“I felt frustrated because I already found it hard to be here and away from my family first of all, and to be in a place that’s so different from my hometown without being close to people I could call if I needed help,” Bupara said. “On top of that, feeling like the school didn’t value me, feeling like they weren’t all that invested in my success, it made it hard to stay here.”
“On top of that, feeling like the school didn’t value me, feeling like they weren’t all that invested in my success, it made it hard to stay here”
Bupara said he believes it is harder for transfers to acclimate to Cal Poly because if the student is dealing with any marginalization issues, it is amplified by being a transfer.
Bupara listed issues like racism on campus, dealing with food and housing insecurity and navigating through a new city as obstacles for transfer students. Taking upper-division courses right away in combination with the lack of resources provided by the school make it much harder for transfer to succeed at Cal Poly.
The Association of Transfer Students (ATS) advocates for more attention to these problems. History alumnus Connor Petterson was the first director of social events for ATS, which was created by transfer students during Fall 2017.
Petterson was one of the students who helped create the first Transfer Week during Fall 2018. He and other ATS members worked for two quarters to schedule a week of events to help transfers connect and acclimate.
“We had to advertise it to the school and try to get that approved, so it took a bit of time,” Petterson said. “All of winter and spring quarter[s] we were focusing on working on that, and by summer we had it all planned out simply because an event like this has never been implemented at [Cal] Poly before.”
According to Petterson, a couple of years before 2017, Cal Poly had an ATS chapter, but the group was eventually dissolved due to lack of support and engagement.
In addition to implementing the first ever transfer week, Petterson and other members of ATS wrote a letter to administration about opening a transfer center on campus. A portion of this letter reads:
“The days of current and future Cal Poly transfers feeling as though they do not have a place on campus can come to an end. Ask a transfer student what they want most from Cal Poly. We will tell you that we want a place to call home and people who know how to help us — we want our voices to be heard and understood. A Transfer Center would place transfer students on a trajectory towards success, and towards Cal Poly’s own goal of creating an environment of inclusion.”
Petterson said ATS never received a reply for the letter, but that ATS will continue to advocate for the future of transfer students at Cal Poly.
In Fall 2018, out of the total 21,812 students that attended Cal Poly as undergraduates, 867 of them were incoming transfer students. Of the 867 students, 59 percent are students of color. The incoming transfer students made up 3.8 percent of all students. Only three of the 23 California State Universities (CSUs) had a lower percentage in transfer admissions.
The other four CSUs that accepted less than 1,000 students were Sonoma, Humboldt, Monterey Bay and Stanislaus, each with less than 11,000 students total. Other CSUs have programs in place for transfers or are actively working on making the campus more inclusive for transfers.
Fresno State put together a team the beginning of Fall 2018 to research what transfer students need. This team will pitch to the university president that transfer students need a Transfer Welcome Center, according to Associate Vice President for Fresno State Student Success Services Tami Pullins. The final decision will be announced later this year.
CSU East Bay and Cal Poly Pomona both have on-campus transfer learning communities. CSU East Bay has counselors assigned specifically for transfer students, alongside programs designed to help transfer students, according to CSU East Bay News and Media Manager Kimberly Hawkins.
CSU Monterey Bay recently applied and received two grants that will be used in the next year for enhancing and extending orientation, improvements to a commuter lounge and events specifically for transfers, CSU Monterey Bay Assistant Director of Communications Noah Rappahahn wrote in an email to Mustang News.
Petterson said he hopes Cal Poly will use the progress at other CSUs as a model for improvement.
“I hope there’s more action by the administration to make plans or make developments that benefit transfer students, whether that be a transfer center or something else entirely, because in the past there has been no push by administration,” Petterson said.
“I hope there’s more action by the administration to make plans or make developments that benefit transfer students”
University Spokesperson Matt Lazier wrote in an email to Mustang News that a transfer center is just a concept and that the university has no further information at this time.
When asked about the support Cal Poly provides toward transfers, Lazier directed Mustang News to the Veteran’s Service Center, Parent & Family Programs, the Cross Cultural Centers and ATS. These programs are available for transfer students to use but are not exclusively designed for transfers, with the exception of ATS. Lazier also mentioned orientation during the start of school, a section about athletic orientation and on-campus transfer student housing.
Lazier did mention the Cal Poly Scholars program expanding in Fall 2019 to support transfer students as well — a program that was previously only available to freshmen. This program is designed to give students financial support, a “technical package,” a University Housing learning community and proactive advising to support three goals set for the program: building a personal network for college success, fostering an inclusive community of scholars and developing skills for lifelong success. This program is also not designed for transfers specifically but will be available for transfers to use in Fall 2019.