BOONE, N.C.—As director of the Office of Transfer Services at Appalachian State University, Jane Rex knows the frustrations, insecurities and obstacles that students coming into a large university can face. She knows because she once walked in their shoes.
Neither of her parents had attended college, and even though she was a good student, no one mentioned college as a possibility for her. A childhood friendship opened her eyes to the possibilities of college and professional work. Now, she tries to be that friend to Appalachian’s transfer community.
She’s as likely to help a potential transfer student navigate a confusing website over the phone as she is to join transfer students on a hike so that she can get to know them better.
“First-generation college students don’t know what their potential is,” she said. “The fun part is helping them see that.”
Rex worked with students at Caldwell Community College in various capacities for 23 years and came to Appalachian in 2010. She has a master’s degree in student development from Appalachian and a bachelor’s degree from Slippery Rock State College.
In fall 2017, 27 percent of the main campus undergraduate students first enrolled at Appalachian as transfer students, according to Appalachian’s Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning (IRAP). Of those, 32 percent of students are first-generation college students and 69 percent come from North Carolina community colleges.
The number of main campus transfer students has increased by 50 percent since 2008, according to IRAP. In that year, there were 867 transfer students on campus out of 15,018. By fall 2017, there were 1,304 transfer students out of 17,537.
Rex and her staff have responded to the increase in transfer students with a number of programs that have made the office a national model for how universities can create a climate that helps transfer students succeed. Those include:
- Jumpstart Appalachian, a transition and support program that helps students before, during and after transfer.
- Transfer Student Mentors, 15 student mentors who have successfully transferred to Appalachian are available to help admitted and new transfer students during the transition to Appalachian.
- Transfer Track, a transfer-specific campus visit to help transfer students.
- Tau Sigma Transfer Honor Society, a national honor society for transfer students.
- Transfer Student Organization, offering bowling and board games to hikes and ice cream socials for transfer students.
- T-POP, a program designed to provide additional support and resources prior to orientation.
- Admitted Student Webinars, to provide students an opportunity to learn next steps and have questions answered without coming to campus.
- Transfer Symposium, an annual event held on campus that brings together transfer students with faculty, staff and students to raise awareness of transfer students on campus and create a climate that helps them succeed.
A measure of the timeliness of transfer success came when Rex’s work earned her a mention in “Hillbilly Elegy,” a recent bestseller by J.D. Vance that details Vance’s hardscrabble climb from Appalachia to Yale Law School.
Vance met Rex through her son-in-law, a friend from Yale Law School. Vance praised Rex as someone who understands how a lack of knowledge about the basics of going to college can hold promising students back.
For many high school students, Rex said, SAT and ACT test prep is a rite of passage. “If you don’t have someone supporting you, how do you know tutors are available for SATs,” she said. “Who’s paying for the tutor?”
Transitioning from community college
Over the last 15 years in North Carolina, community college has evolved from an end in itself to an often-crucial beginning for first-generation college students, Rex said.
Some students still choose a community college because they need to improve their study skills or academic record, she said. Just as often, though, they’re in community college because of family circumstances, prior military service or the high cost of a four-year college. Transferring to a four-year college can feel like entering a foreign country with its own language and culture.
Rex’s office has worked to create a sense of community among transfer students through student mentors, social events and a transfer honor society.
Kim Morton, associate director of transfer services, called Rex a great advocate of transfer students.
“Every discussion, every proposal, every idea, she’s asking, ‘How is it going to help the students?’ Sometimes that viewpoint gets lost in the day-to-day of doing your job,” Morton said.
When their office learned that a one-day transfer orientation was not providing the resources and information that students needed to make a smooth transition to the university, Rex collaborated with the university’s orientation staff to create Transfer Pre-Orientation (T-POP), a program designed to provide a more in-depth look at campus services and resources and to better prepare students for orientation.
“She’s more than an administrator,” Morton said. “She’s definitely a boots-on-the-ground kind of person.”
About Transfer Admissions and Engagement
Transfer Admissions and Engagement at Appalachian State University supports students through all stages of their transfer journey, including admission counseling and pretransfer advising, credit evaluation, transitional assistance as they begin at App State and through involvement and retention efforts during their App State education. The office serves undergraduate transfer students studying on the main campus in Boone as well as App State Online students who complete their classes fully online or at an off-site location. The services and resources provided by Transfer Admissions and Engagement ensure the university’s transfer student population finds academic and social success at App State. Learn more at https://transfer.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 20,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.
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