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Trends and Issues in Higher Ed

February 26, 2016

UW Tacoma’s Transfer Peer Advisers

New transfer students learn from those who know best — peer advisers who transferred in themselves

“Near-peer” programs in which advanced students advise, mentor and support new students are tried and true elements of many orientation and transition programs across the country. This can be especially helpful in orienting transfer students, helping them be as efficient as possible with their time on campus before graduating. Keeping stride with this best practice, UW Tacoma’s New Student and Family Programs offers incoming transfer students many opportunities to engage in near-peer relationships with more senior students. This program is part of the Student Transitions department, which oversees student opportunities beginning at orientation and continuing throughout their first year.

“Students really connect with a peer mentor if they have something in common,” says Amanda Bruner, director of Student Transitions. “If there’s one more dimension there, like the school you both transferred in from, being in the military or raising a family, it’s an opportunity to self-identify with someone else.”

The Transfer Peer Advisers were formed after Gurjot Samra (center) realized that there was an un-met need for UW Tacoma’s transfer students. Photo courtesy of Student Transitions.

Bruner’s observation hints at a way in which UW Tacoma has taken this best practice to a new level. By hiring transfer students for a new Transfer Peer Advisor (TPA) program, incoming transfers can connect with peers with whom they share common experiences as well as challenges.

For example, in addition to being able to make connections based on similar backgrounds, new transfers can learn from upperclassmen TPAs who have made the most of their experience despite having less time to engage with campus life before graduation, or having additional demands on their day-to-day schedules such as careers and families.

“As a transfer student myself, I noticed there was a need for transfer students not being met,” says Gurjot Samra, a senior studying environmental science. He first voiced the idea for dedicated Transfer Peer Advisors after he realized many other transfer students felt the same way.

Bruner and Stephon Harris, associate director of New Student & Family Programs, recognized that implementing this idea offered the opportunity to meet multiple needs with one solution: hiring transfer students to help other transfers validates the experiences of both while offering upperclassmen meaningful leadership opportunities.

Validating student experiences as assets to their education

Validation theory is the foundation of the Transfer Peer Advisor program. Says Bruner, “Our students are coming in with a lot of life skills that will help them succeed in college, so how do we validate that?” Their team designs programs to help students see their life experiences as assets and to recognize on their own how to apply that to be successful in college and beyond.

According to Harris, this asset-based approach calls for intentional, proactive affirmation in order to:

  • Validate students as creators of knowledge and as valuable members of the college learning community.
  • Foster personal development and social adjustment.

Transfer Peer Advisor Melissa Workman, a senior studying history who returned to school later in her life, sees the value of this approach. “We are a unique group of peers for other students to have access to,” says Workman, a single mother of two from a military family. “We can provide sound and informed advice because of our experiences.”

 

Key areas of focus by the Transfer Peer Advisor program include:

Two Transfer Peer Advisors

Melissa Workman (right) poses with a fellow Transfer Peer Adviser. Workman sees how her ability to relate to other students based on her experiences can help others make the most of their university experience. Photo courtesy of Student Transitions.

New students receive affirmation early and often: “When entering college, there is a critical opportunity for new students to receive affirming messages that they bring experiences and knowledge that will help them succeed,” explains Harris. Positioning peer mentors at New Student Orientation sets them up to connect with new students right away, so that later in the year, incoming students have a peer resource to turn to if needed.

TPAs draw on their own experiences to help new students avoid letting the small details hinder persistence and success: New students dealing with the transition to a new campus are less intimidated to ask fellow students things like, “Where do I go to eat during the day?” or “Where do I buy a parking pass?” These kinds of questions are part of “the business of being a student,” says Harris. “They sound like little subtleties, but in the scheme of things they’re not because they dictate a lot of student success, and whether or not a student will stay.”

All the TPAs work to connect students with UW Tacoma’s Husky Success workshops, which focus on practical topics such as looking ahead to register for classes, how to prepare for a career and how to connect with peers in their own program. “They think about it from their perspective — they transferred in, too,” says Harris about the TPAs.

Focusing on careers faster: TPAs are trained to know a little about all campus resources, but the Career Center is a central focus. “We know our transfer students have a much shorter time here,” says Bruner. “A career is really on their minds, so we’re excited to have our Transfer Peer Advisors give concrete guidance on how to think about internships, fellowships and expanding their perspective of what professional development can look like.” Leading by example, TPAs develop their own skills as they attend workshops as well as learn how to work with campus partners.

“Transfer Peer Advisers have run the gamut of good and bad college and life experiences. We all have attended multiple colleges or universities, and we have been able to succeed in one way or another,” says Workman. “I didn’t want students like me to miss out on their college experience just because their life has other obligations.”

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