Transfers find footing in Foggy Bottom

Cameron Smither is on a Dean’s Advisory Council and is a member of both the College Democrats and Green GW. He has a work study job with D.C. Reads, gives campus tours for the Office of Admissions and is a member of his residence hall’s Residential Advisory Council.

He also just transferred to GW in September.

Smither is one of many transfer students who has come to GW – perhaps enticed by the Office of Admissions motto “Something Happens Here” – to get involved in college and the city. While a recent national survey reported that nationally, transfer students are less likely to be involved on campus, Associate Vice President of Student and Academic Support Services Peter Konwerski said GW transfers tend to be very involved in both GW and D.C. life.

“We have students who tend to want to come here to be immediately engaged and in the same spirit of our campus, they can jump right in and get involved from day one – becoming a leader and making a difference on campus, in the classroom, and of course in the community right from the start,” Konwerski said.

Transfer students lag behind native students in terms of campus engagement, according to the National Survey for Student Engagement. But Jillian Kinzie, associate director for the NSSE, attributed GW’s deviation from the survey’s findings to its location and the caliber of student that GW attracts.

“Students who transfer to GW or places like it in highly desirable urban locations do it with a pretty intentional purpose,” Kinzie said. “They want to be there, therefore they make extra efforts to get involved in the things they know will make a difference.”

Smither is one of many transfer students who say they came to GW because of the active student body, as well as the myriad of internship opportunities available.

“The opportunities, there are so many of them,” said Smither, a sophomore who transferred to GW from the University of Louisville. “I have a voice and can be heard if I put the resources in the right places.”

Junior Preeti Parulekar, who transferred to GW last year from the University of Texas, immediately became involved in Green GW, serving as the organization’s director of politics, president and director of events in each semester respectively of the past year and a half. She was also a member of Colonial Cabinet 2009.

Job opportunities ignited her desire to transfer, she said.

“I thought I’d be better off being closer to larger cities,” Parulekar said. “Places where I could get out and learn and expand my knowledge a little more.”

Corey Barenbrugge, a first-year graduate student and Presidential Administrative Fellow, transferred to GW as a sophomore undergraduate from Depaul University.

“I decided when I came to GW that I wasn’t going to be a transfer student,” Barenbrugge said, “I was going to be a GW student. So I jumped in right away.”

Barenbrugge became president of Mitchell Hall RAC, was a House Scholar, participated in the Student Association, and has held several on-campus jobs.

“The reason you transfer to a place like GW is because you want to be involved,” he said.

According to the NSSE, transfers are also less likely to participate in “high impact” activities like studying abroad or interning. But Smither, Parulekar, Barenbrugge, and Danielle Tucker, a junior who transferred last year from University of Southern California, have all held or currently hold jobs either on or off campus. Parulekar also has an internship, and Smither said he plans to have an internship as well as study abroad.

Despite their eagerness to become involved with campus life, all four students mentioned that their transition to GW was hard.

“It’s difficult to become involved in a new place,” Barenbrugge said. “You’re leaving everything you know and you’re pursuing something entirely new.”

Parulekar also said she had a difficult time adjusting.

“Honestly it was kinda rough,” she said. “It was really hard to feel involved and a part of life here. It took a few months to figure it out.”

All four students attended the Colonial Inauguration session designed for transfer and international students.

“Transfer CI was a good abbreviation of orientation for people who had already been through it once before,” Barenbrugge said.

Besides the special CI, the University doesn’t offer specific programming for transfer students. Instead, programming is aimed at students by year in school, Konwerski said.

“Since some of our programs are targeted toward students by year, a sophomore or junior transfer student becomes a recipient of that programming,” Konwerski said. “But the focus is less about their status as a transfer and more about their status as a member of that particular class.”

Many transfer students interviewed by The Hatchet indicated a moderate or high level of involvement. But Parulekar said the University’s approach to welcoming and engaging transfers could still be improved.

“[Transfer CI] didn’t provide a good enough outlet for students to make friends,” Parulekar said, “And that’s what I struggled with the most in the beginning.”

Parulekar said she met several transfer students last year who didn’t feel supported by the University.

“Me being successful at getting involved here doesn’t mean it’s easy,” Parulekar said. “I saw a lot of people fall through the cracks.”

Barenbrugge said it’s up to the attitude of the individual student to make the most of their experience.

“To transfer and be successful you have to be ready to hit the ground running,” Barenbrugge said. “It’s up to you to take the bull by the horns and immerse yourself in your new experience.”

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