By Ashley Harris | November 7, 2022
Students surround Toby, one of the therapy dogs at the National Transfer Week event.
Photo Credit: Ashley Harris
Four therapy dogs sit, sprawl, and stand on the floor of the Transfer Lounge patiently accepting various pats, hugs, and “awws” from nearly a dozen students. In the corner, a petite white and black fur-patterned mutt rolls around playfully nipping at hands while across the room another, much larger doodle with curly black hair sits transfixed for treats. Nearby, students seated around a table crafting chew toys made from bright-colored fabric laugh and chat with each other.
The therapy cuddle session was one of a handful of events held last month aimed at welcoming and helping a community of students often overlooked by university administrations: transfer students. But that's not the case at the University at Albany, which recently hosted its sixth annual National Transfer Week, an idea that was first introduced by a nonprofit whose mission is to encourage universities to help ease the often-difficult adjustment process for transfer students.
"[Transfer students] were not really supported by many colleges and universities and just treated them like returning incoming students,” Darlene Poirier, the Assistant Director for UAlbany's Transfer Engagement Office said. “They figured, well, they're not freshmen, they already had that experience."
Poirier said that her office has set out to override that assumption by hosting a week annually that is filled with opportunities for transfer students to take a break from their studies to play murder mystery games, paint pumpkins, tie-dye t-shirts, visit with therapy dogs, and watch movies, to name a few.
Poirier said that such activities help students who arrive at new schools in the middle of the academic year or after their freshman year to adjust to their new surroundings and avoid what’s known as “transfer shock,” which can affect grades and sense of well-being.
“Transfer students much like any other adult going through a life transition, struggle to get acclimated to their new university,” Poirier added.
The term “transfer shock” was first coined in a 1965 study conducted by the University System of Georgia. More recently, a study last July by CUNY’s Office of Policy Research found that transfer students often see significant grade point drops in their GPAs. CUNY’s research showed that typically the mean point average for transfer students would be 3.2 in the semester prior to transfer and 2.9 in the semester following. Students who don’t transfer tend not to have such a fluctuation in their GPA over the course of eight terms, remaining between 3.06 and 3.22 over eight terms.
“We're all about supporting transfers, ensuring we're providing them with all the tools they need. We help them feel welcome to find resources and help them make friends,” Poirier said.
The University at Albany sees more than 1,400 transfer students join during the fall semester with a couple hundred joining in the spring. These incoming students come from various academic backgrounds from public and private universities that tend to be vastly different from what they come to experience at UAlbany.
The idea to provide more activities and guidance for transfer students stems from a push by the nonprofit New York State Transfer Articulation Association, which has urged all colleges and universities to include money in their budgets to provide a full week of activities to help overcome the challenges transfer students face adjusting to a new academic home.
In addition to the more playful activities, such as the visit by the therapy dogs, Poirier said the university also provides programs that are aimed at helping students with their academic goals and making meaningful connections with students, professors and administrators.
Emily Fronk, a transfer student from Hudson Valley Community College, said that she was able to acclimate to UAlbany with ease in part because of the support that was available around her.
“I know where to go and who to talk to if I struggle,” Fronk said.
One such program available to students like Fronk is “Transfer Connections,” which connects incoming students with a Transfer Transition Leader who also comes from a transfer background and provides peer mentoring and support.
UAlbany has four transfer communities catered to bring together transfers with similar academic studies, such as business, cyber security, and political science as well as one that connects students who performed well at their previous schools with others who share similar work ethics.
Transfer students can also register for a select amount of three-credit gen-ed courses offered only for transfer students or take a UUNI99 course that is optional yet provides students with informational sessions about resources available to them around the campus.
There are also distinctly recognized clubs for transfer students who are older, commute, or are interested in leadership opportunities, Poirier said.
Back at the Transfer Lounge, where dogs, as usual, stole the show, transfer student Meghan Stern leans toward Henry and strokes his silky black coat. "Despite the campus being big it still felt small because I was able to get to know people and resources around me that I know would help," said Stern, her eyes fixed on the doodle.
"I feel like there’s a community at UAlbany that’s unlike any other school.”