Transitioning to higher education can feel like being tossed into the deep end, but for those that start as freshmen, there’s a network of advisors, professors, peers and roommates to help keep new students afloat.
Now imagine this same transition as a junior, after a few years of study at a community college. Most students have already adjusted to the rigorous classes, the sprawling campus, the R1 research environment and likely found their community. Transfer students from community colleges are thrown in the pool as juniors and need a different support system to help them succeed.
That’s where Wolves to Rams (W2R) comes in.
W2R is a program that focuses on supporting underrepresented transfer students from Front Range Community College to Colorado State University in STEM fields – the only one of its kind at the university.
The program recruits students that are often underrepresented: those who are first-generation, students of color, non-traditional students, low-income, students with disabilities and with intersecting identities.
The program’s efforts start at FRCC, with the transfer student advisor Erin Pitts, who is available to students before and after their transfer to CSU.
Pitts has a unique position, working 50% for FRCC and 50% for CSU. By offering advising at the community college level, the program supports students all the way through their college experience, she explained.
“There have been patchwork programs that serve transfer students once they arrive at CSU, but ours is extremely unique in that it tries to serve students at the point of application to the community college, and sometimes even before that,” she said.
Pitts explained that this sustained support is instrumental in transfer students’ success.
“The research is clear that comprehensive programs work to recruit, retain, and, most importantly, graduate students,” she said.
“I think it’s very important for any student to find that community at CSU,” said Orlando Cruz, the transfer student success coach for W2R. “I think it impacts their performance, their academics and just how successful they are.”
Wolves to Rams students meet with Cruz twice per semester, getting help with picking classes, financial aid questions and making sure they’re on track to graduate. Cruz works in partnership with the students’ academic advisors to plan create tailored graduation plans for each W2R student.
When they come to CSU, Wolves to Rams students take a one-credit course taught by Cruz – IU300: Becoming a Scientist.
In IU300 students learn about the resources available to them at CSU and where to find them, with a strong focus on finding and joining a research lab at CSU. The course also covers resumé building; finding research jobs and mentors on and off campus; diversity and equity in science; and how to be successful at CSU and beyond.
Students tour the Morgan Library, the Lory Student Center and labs on campus so they know what resources are available to them, said Corin Lais, a W2R peer mentor.
W2R peer mentors are students going into their second year at CSU. They help incoming transfer students prepare for the transition and try to make CSU feel less intimidating.
“Being a transfer student, it’s kind of like you feel like you don’t quite fit in a little bit,” Lais said, “but that’s why it’s nice to have the Wolves to Rams community, because they all kind of understand that as well.”
Lais, a first-generation student, explained how Wolves to Rams helps her stay motivated to finish her degree.
“I think that it can be really difficult when you don’t have people trying to cheer you on or root for you, so it’s nice to have advisors like Orlando and Erin and other kids in the program that are encouraging you to keep going,” she said.
Supporting all transfer students
The support the program can provide is thanks to, in part, their funding. Wolves to Rams receives funding from three main sources – the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Health and the President’s Office at CSU.
W2R gives seven semesters of support to 30 Front Range students each year. It also offers paid research internships to six students each year, covering four semesters and two summer research experiences.
Students that transfer from community colleges into a STEM field are automatically placed into Wolves to Rams. Even if they don’t receive a scholarship from the program, students can access advising, workshops and events held by W2R.
The most recent grant came earlier this year from an Inspiration Award through the CSU President’s Office as part of the Courageous Strategic Transformation. The award enabled the program to expand past Front Range Community College, offering support to transfer students from all 13 community colleges in Colorado, explained Paul Laybourn, director of the program and a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
Laybourn works directly with the President’s office and helps ensure the grant money goes where it’s needed most.
Though Front Range still receives the most help through direct funding, Laybourn explained that supporting all community college transfer students has been rewarding.
“That always kind of bothered me because I always knew there was other students that were community college transfer students that I couldn’t support through the NSF grant, so that’s allowed us to expand our recruitment,” he said.
Beyond scholarships, the grant money provides administrative funding for transfer advisors, and allows the program to offer workshops, take students to conferences and maintain a one-of-a-kind learning community on campus.
With a nearly perfect graduation rate, Wolves to Rams and its advisors have helped many people to achieve their dreams.
“There’s a lot of people who might say, ‘oh, wow, that’s amazing that [they] achieved all of that despite where [they] came from,’” said Pitts. “But I think, for most of our students, it’s because of what they’ve been through, it is because of their background, it’s because of those things that they are successful. All we need to do is just give them a tiny little boost and then get out of their way.”
Find out more about Wolves to Rams here.