By Katharine Webster
At the end of April, less than a month before the end of Dhruvi Patel’s junior year at Mount Ida College, she got the bad news.
Patel, a pre-med biology major in Mount Ida’s honors program, was studying for the physics MCAT with a professor when their phones pinged with a text: Mount Ida was closing for good.
“We were both shaken up,” Patel says. “I didn’t know where I was going to finish college.”
All of Mount Ida’s students were offered admission to UMass Dartmouth, but that wasn’t an option for Patel because it was too far from her family and her job in Framingham. Then a UMass Lowell admissions team arrived on campus. The team members reassured Patel that all of her credits would transfer, she could graduate on time – and she could graduate from the UMass Lowell Honors College.
Honors transfer coordinator and advisor Erin Maitland and student success coordinator Megan Hadley then met with Patel to help her figure out how to finish her major and her remaining honors requirements: two courses and a capstone project.
“I worked with Erin and Megan very closely,” Patel says. “They were very helpful and understanding, because I had to pick my classes and figure out my honors requirements, all in one year.”
Maitland began working in the Honors College 2½ years ago as a dedicated advisor for transfer students. She spent her first few months listening to students to figure out what they needed. In addition to advising, they needed flexibility in meeting their eight course requirements. They also just needed help navigating a new place.
That gave her an idea: Use peer-to-peer mentoring, connecting successful honors students with new transfer students in the same department or college through the “Transfermation” program.
Rabia Haider, a junior nutritional science major who transferred to UMass Lowell from a community college in Indianapolis, says her Transfermation mentor, nursing major Sophia Samih, has been incredibly helpful.
“Sophia gave me the lay of the land. She helped me pick out my classes and told me which professors I should take,” she says. “And I can email her with questions anytime.”
Becca Taft, a junior psychology major, had a similar experience – and is now a mentor herself. Taft transferred twice after starting school at a small private college in Maine, first to Massasoit Community College, where she earned her associate degree, and then to UMass Lowell.
Thanks to the Mass Transfer program, all of Taft’s credits from Massasoit transferred to UML – and when she started last spring, she was invited to join the Honors College.
Maitland helped her figure out her remaining honors course requirements, but it was Taft’s Transfermation mentor, Elliott Botelho, a fellow psychology major, who helped her choose her classes in SiS, the student information system software.
“I was obviously terrified, but Ell was awesome. We’d go sit in Starbucks and drink coffee while they helped me figure out my major classes, my core curriculum requirements and my honors requirements,” Taft says. “Now I’m mentoring four brand-new transfer students, and it really helps that all those struggles are fresh in my mind. I’ve met with them all, and one has become a really good friend.”
Many transfer students are, like Taft, graduates of a Commonwealth Honors program at one of Massachusetts’ community colleges. Those programs are now closely aligned with honors programs and colleges at the four-year state colleges and universities.
Depending on how many credits a transfer student has when they arrive, the Honors College may waive one or two semesters of college writing. One or two more classes may be waived if the student has completed honors classes at their previous institution.
All transfer students need to take an interdisciplinary honors seminar and a high-level honors class and then complete a capstone project or thesis, but there are some options and flexibility in how they do that, Maitland says.
Patel is completing her course requirements through an “honors-by-contract” biology class this semester – she’s doing an extra project for the professor – and an interdisciplinary honors seminar next semester. Finishing with honors while applying to medical schools has been overwhelming at times, but she’s proud of the work she’s doing here.
“My classes here are definitely harder, but the professors are approachable and helpful, and they know where I’m coming from, so they’re definitely willing to help me with the transition,” she says.
And she’s loving her honors capstone: a two-semester community service project, with Hadley as her advisor. Patel did research this semester to help the local nonprofit Budget Buddies launch a pilot project, Girl’s LIFE, which uses college-age volunteers to teach financial literacy to teenage girls. Next semester, Patel will volunteer for the program in Lawrence. She’s excited because it’s a change from the grind of pre-med academics – and she enjoys helping people.
“I’m also able to talk about my community engagement in my medical school applications, and they’re loving it,” she says.