Andrea Patino Galindo came to Massachusetts from Mexico to care for three children as an au pair.
After two years of learning English from books, subtitled TV shows and the children, she went home and applied for a student visa to study business administration at Middlesex Community College.
She got such good grades her first semester that her advisor suggested she meet with History Prof. David Kalivas, head of the Commonwealth Honors Program at Middlesex. Kalivas explained the benefits of joining, including smaller seminar-style classes and challenging research projects and papers.
Patino Galindo decided to join. She loved the class discussions, which greatly improved her English. She says the program was hard work, but it fully prepared her to transfer to the Honors College at UMass Lowell, where she’s now majoring in finance and international business.
“It made me understand what I was capable of, stop doubting myself and realize what I could do,” she says. “When I came here, I was ready.”
Patino Galindo spoke at the signing of a cooperation agreement between the two Commonwealth Honors programs this spring. The formal agreement will make it easier for students transferring to UML to find faculty mentors and get research fellowships, so that they can complete their honors capstones.
“Together, we can offer an affordable Honors College experience,” Kalivas said at the signing, which included UML Honors College Dean Jim Canning, the provosts of both schools and Middlesex President James Mabry. “Now the message is, ‘Start at Middlesex and finish at UMass Lowell, seamlessly.’ That’s the kind of gateway we want to create for our students.”
The honors agreement is just one part of a years-long, joint effort to improve services and academic support for transfer students from Middlesex. The resulting changes are benefiting all transfer students, says Vice Provost for Student Success Julie Nash.
“We wanted to identify gaps and take advantage of opportunities, and it made sense to start with Middlesex, our nearest neighbor,” Nash says. “Because if our transfer students from Middlesex are coming here and feeling a little bit lost, what does that mean about our other transfer students?”
Nearly half of all undergraduates at UMass Lowell are transfer students – and the majority come from community colleges, says Ellen Humphrey, assistant director of transfer admissions. The largest number come from Middlesex – 261 last fall – followed by Northern Essex, North Shore, Bunker Hill, Quinsigamond and MassBay.
Focusing attention on their needs is part of the university’s commitment to diversity, Nash says, because community college students are more likely to come from low-income families, to be first-generation college students and to be immigrants or members of underrepresented minorities.
Another reason for close cooperation with Middlesex and other community colleges: As first-year admissions at UMass Lowell have become more competitive, the university has had to turn away some academically qualified students. For them, starting at community college on a transfer track can be a way to save money while knowing they’re on a direct path to a four-year degree, Nash says.
That provided the impetus for UMass Lowell to create the Reserved Placement Program three years ago, in partnership with Middlesex and four other community colleges. Students are offered deferred admission and a guarantee that they can transfer to UML if they study at a Massachusetts community college for at least one semester.
The students get UMass Lowell advising to make sure they’re taking the right classes. They also get student IDs, so they can use campus facilities and participate in campus programs right away.
“We will work with the reserved placement students and encourage them to stay as long as they like at community college, but when they decide it’s time to transfer to UMass Lowell, we want them to have a foot in the door,” Nash says.
Starting last fall, up to 30 reserved placement students attending Middlesex also can live on campus at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center. Those students become part of the Pathways Living-Learning Community, which is open to all transfer students. And, under the latest agreement, all reserved placement students will be admitted to the Commonwealth Honors Program at Middlesex.
Another change that grew out of the partnership with Middlesex was a new advising system for transfer students. Previously, transfer students with an associate degree were assigned an academic advisor in their department. Now, they also get a transfer advisor from the Centers for Learning and Academic Support Services. The UML Honors College also hired an advisor just for transfer students two years ago.
Other programs and initiatives between UML and Middlesex include:
- A summer bridge program at UMass Lowell for Middlesex students in science, math, engineering and health sciences. It’s being expanded to four more community colleges this summer.
- A conference and ongoing meetings between staff at both schools – from admissions and advising to multicultural affairs – to share best practices. A similar conference took place with staff from Northern Essex this spring.
- Meetings between academic departments to better align curricula and create new programs like History Day, when history students at Middlesex shadow history students at UML. A similar initiative is planned for Northern Essex.
- Shared professional development opportunities, including a recent half-day conference on teaching multilingual college students that drew 135 faculty members from both campuses.
- Training for student tutors at Middlesex who transfer to UML, so they can continue working as tutors here.
“There’s a difference between a research university and a community college, but at the end of the day, we share a common interest in the success of these students,” Nash says.