Bernadette Diodati, Contributing Writer
There is a perception that the University of Dallas is divided into a number of student groups. There are Fromers, Spromers, the freshman class, the senior class, the athletes etc., and gaining entry into each group carries with it an important identity, a sense of belonging and a personal connection that says, “I’m a part of UD.”
That identity starts to take hold at freshman orientation when the UD culture is explained and forever imprinted in the mind of every newcomer. It’s learning the importance of Groundhog, Charity Week or perhaps simply milling about the Mall on a sunny day. It’s the baseline for UD neophytes and it follows them from that initial orientation all the way to graduation.
Yet there is another group of students who, while small in number, don’t always share that connection. They are among the transfer students, who were attracted to UD by its academic reputation and rigor. Once here, however, some transfers say they didn’t realize how difficult it would be to fit in. Others say they easily settled into campus life.
The issue surfaced during Student Government organized “focus groups” that ensure that student input is being considered by the administration as a part of UD’s 10-year plan reaccreditation process. Dr. Brian Murray, UD’s chief financial officer, led the focus groups and asked students to discuss their UD experience and ways in which it could be improved. These focus groups led to a conversation about transfer students and their experiences after they arrived on campus. In fall 2013, there were 54 new transfer undergraduates enrolled; this spring, 13 new transfer undergrads were enrolled.
Maria Bernadette King has attended three colleges in three years. She transferred to UD in January from Texas A&M University, where she had studied for a year and a half after attending a community college for one semester. King, who is a few credits short of being classified a junior, said UD’s nursing program appealed to her because of the accompanying academic challenge in the Core.
“I think I knew after freshman year [at A&M], but I stayed another semester because I wanted to make it work,” she said. “I’ve had all three types of schools: community college, public and private.” Another reason for her decision was that her sister Monica was also entering UD in January as a freshman.
King said her hopes to become a part of UD quickly were greatly lowered when she arrived and found how difficult it was for her to make friends.
“Socially, it’s hard,” she said. “One of the biggest challenges is the social aspect. Everyone in my grade has already been to Rome, and I think class identity is established during that semester abroad. The students my age who have already been to Rome have solidified their friend groups.”
She does find solace in having a few friends she knew in high school in San Antonio who are also currently attending UD, such as junior Christina Castillo. Castillo felt that her transition to UD was easy. As a freshman, she said, it was easy because the classes were small and everyone took the same Core classes, and she felt that she fit in well with the community.
King said that her orientation was less than desirable. “I was grouped with freshmen and so I was automatically considered one of them, as well as put in classes with them,” King said. “At A&M, there isn’t class identity, but school identity. You’re not separated into groups.”
She said she does miss A&M, but not enough to go back. “I have tons of great friends there. However, the things that I miss aren’t good enough reasons to go back. What reassures me is my education here at UD. I’m learning a lot — I can feel my mind growing. I can tell that I’m being pushed to an intellectual limit.”
King paused for a moment before saying, “It’s still hard to find my place. I don’t feel as if I have a group at UD and I don’t think I ever really will, because I don’t have a class.”
The sense of separation, however, doesn’t apply to every transfer student. Amir Razavi, a transfer junior from Mountainview Community College in Dallas, said that UD was a great choice for him because it was close to home, and UD offered financial aid.
“I had options to go out of state — New York and California among them — but when I thought about the academics here, the environment and the community, it fit my criteria,” he said. “It is going to mold me to not only become a better student, but a better human being overall. It makes one whole.”
Razavi said he enjoys the diversity and feels welcomed by everyone. “You can catch this crowd, you can catch that crowd,” he said as a huge grin spread across his face. “You can blend and converse with anybody that you often relate to as well. Here, it’s not being better than another person; it’s about being as human as possible. I’m really happy.”
Two other transfer students, Paul Fiesel and Kathryn Gibbs, offered their thoughts. Fiesel previously attended Christendom College, but transferred at the beginning of his sophomore year and is currently a senior history major. Kathryn Gibbs is a junior pastoral ministry major who transferred from Texas Women’s University in Denton in spring 2012.
They described their orientation experience as unsatisfactory. When asked if they felt that they had help settling in if they needed it, both said no.
“[UD] could really do something to improve the issue, because we essentially had a two-day orientation and then it was like, ‘Here’s your class schedule and off you go,’” said Gibbs. “And I didn’t even know which building was which. I probably hadn’t even met one student at that point.”
Fiesel said, “They put me in an orientation group with freshmen and so I was therefore viewed as one. It was hard. The university has to do something different.”
Both recommended a proactive approach that could be accomplished by having public events, such as “Meet the Transfers” that would distinguish these students from freshmen. Gibbs suggested that orientation leaders who have spent time at UD could be assigned to aid transfers.
Elizabeth Griffin Smith, an admissions counselor in the Office of Student Life, said that the department is striving to help transfers during orientation. According to Smith, spring orientation is usually more rewarding than the fall, since that’s when most transfers arrive. Students are put in small groups and most are assigned to the same classes and thus are better able to mix with each other and the rest of their environment.
Smith said that Student Life is aware of the concerns of transfers and is confident they can be addressed successfully.