Kiedra Taylor was on a mission: graduate and get out.
A transfer student from San Diego City College, the mother of four chose to avoid getting too involved on campus, which she assumed would delay her road to graduation.
“After I got in, I planned to keep my head down, get my ticket punched and get out because I was lucky to have even been admitted,” said Taylor, now a comparative literature and rhetoric and writing studies double major. “I thought, ‘I’m just going to get my work done.’”
It’s not uncommon for transfer students to enter the university with a similar mindset, but Taylor didn’t realize her plan would leave her feeling isolated and alone. That was, of course, until she ran into Theodore Bruni, a former SDCC classmate, in one of her classes.
Gregarious and outgoing, Bruni, who also goes by “Teddy,” immediately asked what she was involved in; Taylor didn’t have much to report.
“He said, ‘No, no, no. That is not how it’s supposed to be,’” she said with a smile.
“But seeing him was so refreshing because I hadn’t recognized a lot of faces on campus,” she added. “I feel like there are a lot of transfer students on campus; we just don’t see each other.”
It was the friendly encouragement she needed to finally reach out and connect. Months later, Taylor’s achievements include presenting at the SDSU Student Research Symposium this past March and helping Bruni establish the Transfer Student Outreach Alliance (TSOA), a new student organization aimed at fostering transfer student success.
Together, TSOA provides transfer students with informational meetings and workshops, and conducts outreach to local community colleges and campus partners.
“Teddy saved my life because I was not planning to speak up,” Taylor said. “I don’t feel excluded anymore.”
A transfer student lifeline
The idea for the Transfer Student Outreach Alliance was born out of conversations Bruni had with students and one of his campus mentors, Assistant Dean Michelle Lopez in the Division of Undergraduate Studies, last fall.
He said those talks made him realize transfer students could benefit a student-driven support network of their own.
“This is about changing that transfer perspective from just grabbing a degree to instead realizing there is so much this school has to offer,” said Bruni, an English major and Honors interdisciplinary studies minor.
“We want to connect students with like experiences,” he continued. “I’ve gone through what most transfer students go through — that transition — but I’ve had a lot of mentorship and support, and I’ve also not given up.”
Originally from the Chicago suburbs, Bruni’s transition to SDSU began in the fall of 2014. At the time, he was offered a seat in The Weber Honors College for high-achieving students.
It was the mentors he connected with in both the Honors College and the Division of Undergraduate Studies that gave him the confidence and structure he needed to reach above and beyond.
“Had I not had the Weber Honors College to mentor me and to help me understand how to navigate the four-year world, I probably would have been much more overwhelmed,” Bruni said.
Soon enough, he was applying for a range of high-impact — and competitive — opportunities, including the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) National Internship Program, in which he was selected for a summer internship with the U.S. Department of the Interior in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
The internship allowed him to work closely with geologists, archeologists and engineers to draft environmental assessments, an experience that made him eligible for full-time federal employment after graduation.
Director of the Weber Honors College Stacey Sinclair said Bruni’s ambition coupled with his involvement in the Weber Honors College made it easier for him to maximize all the opportunities that SDSU offers.
“Transfer students bring distinct strengths, including diversity and a proven track record of success, to our campus, and in the Honors College, we are committed to having a diverse student population,” Sinclair said. “That’s part of why we're so motivated and committed to increasing our transfer student population because they bring valuable life experiences and the maturity that we’re looking for.”
To help recruit high-achieving students, SDSU is partnered with the nonprofit Honors Transfer Council in California to encourage transfers to apply to SDSU and to the Weber Honors College. The university also provides a student orientation for incoming transfer students prior to the start of each fall semester.
The transfer Aztec Experience
Balancing school and work schedules and commuting to campus are common challenges when it comes to transfer student success. These barriers, in addition to the shortened time until graduation, can sometimes hinder students from seeing the value of getting involved on campus.
Bruni said he hopes to change that with the Transfer Student Outreach Alliance, by encouraging transfer students to utilize campus resources to engage with opportunities such as scholarships and fellowships, undergraduate research, community service, internships, study abroad and graduate school.
Research shows that the earlier transfer students engage with the four-year university community, the better their academic success.
Bruni himself, who works on campus as a SDSU student admissions representative, is planning to intern abroad this summer in Quito, Ecuador with support from the Gilman International Scholarship Program.
He said his internship experience in New Mexico inspires him to keep reaching toward success.
“It was from there that I really began to understand and focus more directly on my future goals, so for me, that really changed everything,” Bruni said.
But he’s careful not to lose sight of the basic social aspect that TSOA provides, something he believes all students can benefit from.
“Transfer students have so much to offer. Our stories are incredible and so many transfer students have these amazing different backgrounds,” Bruni said. “When you become involved, you’re able to bring those backgrounds and it starts to build that community.”
Visit the Transfer Student Outreach Alliance’s Facebook page or join the student organization’s list serve.