Transfer Alliance Program Supports New Transfer Students
TAP Uses Peer Allies to Ease Transition in First Semester
By Katharine Webster
Kylie Encarnacao joined UML’s brand-new Transfer Alliance Program for “community, and to be connected with the opportunities on campus.”
At a welcome event for students in the program (also known as TAP), Encarnacao, a sophomore business major from Reading, Massachusetts, who spent her first year of college at Bridgewater State University, said, “You don’t have four years to figure things out. You’re already kind of behind.”
Nicole Karp, a junior business major from Dudley, Massachusetts, who earned her associate degree at Quinsigamond Community College, says she joined to meet other transfer students.
“Being a transfer can be a little more isolating, so I wanted to meet people who are closer to my age, have common interests and are also going to be a little bit lost,” she says.
Even before they arrived on campus, Encarnacao, Karp and Anna Barta, a junior biochemistry major from Hastings, Nebraska, had connected through TAP as they sought housing; all three are in the Honors College and living in dedicated honors housing at University Suites. When they met on the day of Convocation and the TAP welcome event, they already felt like they had friends, they said.
“Those are just the kinds of connections we want TAP to facilitate,” says Julie Nash, vice provost for academic affairs, who created the program. “We know that students who feel connected are more successful.”
TAP offers occasional events, workshops and connections with “peer allies” – current, successful transfer students – to help new transfer students get connected to campus resources, events, clubs and each other during their first semester on campus, says Ellen Nichols, the new coordinator for transfer initiatives.
Faculty Director Kyle Coffey, an associate teaching professor of physical therapy and kinesiology, who is leading the program with Nichols, says TAP will also help connect transfer students with faculty for research and Honors College projects earlier in their time here.
Transfer students – who make up more than 40% of UML undergraduates – have unique needs, and TAP is designed to take those into account, says Nichols, who was previously an English professor and dean at several community colleges, including Middlesex Community College.
Transfer students are generally older than first-year students – their average age is 26 – and they often have heavier work and family responsibilities, university data shows. They are more likely to be supporting themselves financially, to be students of color and to come from a low-income family or community.
“These students have already proved that they are successful as students,” Nash says. “We want to make sure that they and their community college guidance counselors and program advisers know that we’re doing everything we can to support them when they get here.”
One hundred students signed up to join TAP this semester, with 80 of them requesting a peer ally. The program, which will be offered to incoming transfer students every semester, is funded as a pilot for three years, thanks to a $160,000 grant from an anonymous corporate donor, Nash says.
Luisa Londoño, a native of Colombia who moved to Lowell during high school and earned an associate degree with a psychology concentration at Middlesex, says her advisers and professors at Middlesex kept encouraging students to continue their education at UMass Lowell.
Then one of her professors who teaches cognitive psychology at both schools, adjunct faculty member Jose Martinez, invited her to visit his class here. She saw she could fit right in – and she is now an honors psychology major.
“All my credits transferred,” Londoño says. “It was actually very easy, and I was glad because I wasn’t scared.”
Most UML transfer students come from Massachusetts community colleges, especially Middlesex (38%), Northern Essex (20%) and Bunker Hill (11%), and UML works closely with those schools to make sure that their curricula align as much as possible. But quite a few transfer students come from other four-year colleges – and from other countries – as well.
Oliver Ochije moved from Nigeria to study in Massachusetts, and he graduated from Middlesex Community College in 2020 with an associate degree in liberal arts. He had no idea what career he wanted to pursue at the time. But after working full time for three years, including as a security guard, he made up his mind and enrolled here.
Barta, the biochemistry major, came here from a community college in Kansas because UML had the major she wanted and a dance team for which she could audition. It’s also close to Boston, where her girlfriend is in college. And UML made it easier to transfer than other four-year schools she applied to, she says.
“This college had good communications with me; it was the only college that kept reaching out to me, and it offered me a huge scholarship,” Barta said at the event.
“I really wanted to do international business, and a lot of the other colleges that offer it had a lot of specific courses they wouldn’t let me transfer in,” she says. “This school was more open and welcoming to transfer students.”