TAP Uses Peer Allies to Ease Transition in First Semester

Honors psychology major Luisa Londono, who joined the new Transfer Alliance Program, smiles while sitting at a table with her peer ally, Liam Reidy Image by K. Webster
Honors psychology major Luisa Londono at the Transfer Alliance Program welcome event. She says it was easy to transfer to UML from Middlesex Community College.

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.”
From left, Honors College students Kylie Encarnacao, business, Anna Barta, biochemistry, and Nicole Karp, business, attended a welcome event for new transfer students in the Transfer Alliance Program Image by K. Webster
New transfer students Kylie Encarnacao, Anna Barta and Nicole Karp are all in the Honors College and living at University Suites.
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. 
Oliver Ochije, a criminal justice major, at a table with his peer ally and transfer students Shreya Kumar and Kirsten Ingram at the TAP welcome event Image by K. Webster
New transfer students Shreya Kumar, Oliver Ochije and Kirsten Ingram at the Transfer Alliance Program welcome event.
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.
Associate Teaching Professor Kyle Coffey and Coordinator of Transfer Initiatives Ellen Nichols talk during a peer ally training for TAP Image by K. Webster
Associate Teaching Prof. Kyle Coffey and Coordinator of Transfer Initiatives Ellen Nichols are leading the program.
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.
Peer ally Sergio Rodriguez, left, recommending that new transfer students download an app that will let them see their schedules, advisers and other useful information Image by K. Webster
Peer ally Sergio Rodriguez, left, recommends that new transfer students download an app with their class schedules, advisers and more.
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.
“I figured out what I was passionate about,” he says. “Criminal justice.”
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.
Karp agreed.
“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.”