This year, Winthrop added over 300 new students to their upperclassmen roster with the addition of military, adult and transfer students. The unique experience of being a non-traditional student sets a student up for different kinds of challenges they will have to face.
Since August 2012, Winthrop has noticed this experience and has created an office to specifically address these unique needs. The Office of Military, Adult, and Transfer Services (MATS) offers support for these unique circumstances, as the transition from another school to Winthrop can be rocky.
Since these students have different backgrounds, they also have a variety of desires when it comes to the transfer process. This balancing act was addressed by Katie Sardelli, the director and founder of the MATS office. “We have been concentrating a lot of our efforts primarily on the student’s transition initially into the institution by coordinating with orientation to ensure that, during the orientation process, there are students available who have similar experiences.” said Sardelli. This is where Transfer Orientation Leaders and Mentors (TOLMs) come into play.
Before the MATS office, the orientation leaders for all students were freshman orientation leaders. Despite efforts to make a clear distinction between the different kinds of students, these leaders did not understand the unique experience that transfer students face. TOLMs are non-traditional students who both lead orientation and follow up with their orientation groups throughout their first semester.
“I love my TOLM Kayla. She called me and that was so sweet, even if it was protocol it feels like they genuinely care and since they’re transfer students as well you can interact with someone who is in the same mindset you are. [Kayla] was very welcoming and warm and I really appreciate them talking to us outside of orientation,” said Marisa Fields-Williams, a junior transfer student.
Welcome Week is a time when the MATS office faces some of the biggest challenges in finding their balance. The collaboration effort between the MATS office and FYE office has been a hard road and students have had mixed responses to efforts that have been made. In the past, events like Rock the Hill have been required for transfer students, but due to feedback about the transfers feeling alienated from the freshmen-focused activities, the event became optional.
Some transfer students want to be very involved in the FYE program, while others want to have their own designated spaces and others don’t care either way. The best the MATS office has to offer really lies in the transfer-specific events that occur during welcome week. Orientation week featured events like transfer trivia and a transfer carnival.
“Welcome Week was freshman oriented, but since we are such a small group I understand that it’s hard to make as big of a deal for us. But at the events like transfer trivia I met a few great people and it was very nice not having to worry about if I can really relate to the people around me.” said Fields-Williams about her Welcome Week experience.
Sardelli also emphasized the desire for the MATS office to offer enough events for students to feel welcome and invited into an accepting community.
“What I’ve found is our transfer students are just as invested in getting involved and being part of the community and finding ways to really get connected with the Winthrop experience, and a lot of them really value it, maybe even more so because they have comparison from a different institution and if they were looking for something else, now they have found that experience.” said Sardelli about transfer students’ unique relationship with Winthrop.
Overall, the efforts being put forth by the MATS office to make their new students feel welcome and prepared to involve themselves in the Winthrop community are outstanding. As long as these students take the initiative to involve themselves on campus and within their transfer community, the support and resources they need are offered to them if they ask.