Finding a New Start at Berea

Jacob Appelman, '15Leave a Comment

Berea College transfer students are met with many changes and challenges in the transition into our unique and rigorous liberal arts curriculum. Understanding this, Berea College’s various admissions personnel work hard and continually develop new ways to acclimate transfers to the Berea experience. Jessica Amburgey, Coordinator for Recruitment Outreach, works with selecting and admitting transfer students who will be a good match for Berea, while Chris Lakes, Residential Coordinator, has a hand in acclimating students to Berea life. Berea’s small classrooms and dense requirements necessitate that compatible students are recruited and aptly prepared for the Berea experience. Because of this, programs are being created and modified to help in this endeavor. Transfer students find Berea to be a mixed bag of pleasure, strain, and growth, and Ashley Tiemann was happy to share her story.

Ashley Tiemann finds a quiet space on campus to read.

Ashley Tiemann finds a quiet space on campus to read.

Before transferring to Berea, Ashley felt as though she was at a school where she “wasn’t learning anything.” The demands of Berea College engaged Tiemann far more than her last school, where she did not feel very connected to the curriculum. Instead of “playing on the internet and turning things in at the last minute and still making A’s,” Ashley is pushed toward critical independent thought and problem solving. The difference in community was another big change for her. At her old school, there was less of a sense of community, people usually minded their own business, and she felt rather lonesome, whereas she found the students and faculty at Berea much more warm, welcoming and friendly. The attendance policy at Berea was another big adjustment for her, as Berea requires regular attendance in order for students to pass a class, unlike most other institutions. The close, friendly environment allowed for more socialization than her last school, and she rather enjoys this aspect of Berea. Ashley found that most of the resources for acclimating students are more geared toward freshman new to the college experience, so she found herself not using these resources, and acclimated on her own, though she credits Chris Lakes with helping her quite a bit, as well as professors.

Chris has worked with acclimating incoming freshman to Berea College for many years, but he is still perfecting a program for the special needs that transfer students may have upon entering the college. While many transfers are quite successful on their own, Chris still wants to give them an extra lift when it comes to this shift. About five years ago, Berea College increased the number of accepted transfer students to about one hundred, and a need arose for a summer orientation geared toward their specific needs. Transfer students are more familiar with the college experience in general and tend to have a better understanding of what they would like their major to be. There is a greater need for understanding how credits will transfer from their old universities, for instance, and how transferring affects class standing and progression toward academic majors. It is important to know how their past college experiences impact their future time at Berea.

Ashley first decided to transfer to Berea when she heard of its labor program and free tuition scholarship, which drew her away from her old institution and the debts it would inevitably incur. She was also drawn by the college’s small size and private institution status, as well as the good reviews she had read from various sources. The pleasant arboreal campus is also a good contrast to her last school’s aesthetics, which she refers to as the “concrete jungle.” Having actual trees on campus greatly improved her mood and motivated her to get out of bed and go to class. The residential campus also facilitated friendships. At her old school, would-be acquaintances seemed to just drive home at the end of the day, whereas everybody is part of a living community in Berea. The small classrooms and attentive professors were another pleasant contrast to her old university, where professors would not have time for answering all student questions, let alone meet in person during office hours. She also found it rather hard to participate in extracurricular activities at her old school, where they were elite and exclusive, whereas Berea’s extracurriculars are far more welcoming, regardless of skill level.

While this is not true for all transfer students, Chris reports that there is often a change in workload for transfers to Berea. Classes tend to be a “little bit more intense” than what they had experienced at their prior colleges, especially when combined with the demands of the labor program, although many have worked while taking classes in the past, and are quite prepared. Another challenge is discovering whether the classes they took in the past will fulfill specific degree requirements. Some are allowed to waive GSTR 110 because they have taken composition classes in the past, but are still required to take GSTR 210 because of the focus it places on the liberal arts education and introduction to Berea history and culture. Transfer students are also a wealth of information on how other universities operate, and this is sometimes used to help improve how things are done at Berea. Chris loves it when students come to him and explain how something was done differently at their old institution, and thus help along with the continual growth of Berea.

In the selection process for transfer students, Jessica Amburgey looks for students who are “Berea fit,” as well as students who will be successful in the classroom. “Berea fit” is the term that admission counselors use to describe potential students who are more likely to integrate and contribute well to the community in some way. This can include whether a student has a particular talent to bring to campus, such as music, theater, art, or debate, among other things. Students must also demonstrate that they have been successful at their past schools to show potential to meet Berea’s academic standards well. Applications are viewed very holistically, and include recommendations and a student essay, where they are asked to display an understanding of Berea’s differences and a strong ability to adapt. A positive attitude toward student labor is one looked-for attribute in transfer applications, as well as a positive attitude toward and ability to add to the college’s racial, religious, and cultural diversity. Often students are drawn by Berea’s strong Appalachian commitment and willingness to serve the area and its various needs. Others are attracted by Berea’s commitment to sustainability. Amburgey reaffirms that students who transfer often are used to being part-time students at a community college, and not an employed full-time student with mandatory attendance policies in many of their classes. One of the prime ideas related to the transfer student process is that students bring something unique and different from outside the school. Transfers are often driven individuals with a keen idea of what they want from college and a vision of what they would like to do in the future. Admission for transfer students is a lot more competitive than for first-time freshman as well. These traits manifest as a more driven community, and these students can also act to inspire others with their stories. Reflects Jessica, “Even though they face some challenges as transfer students, I think that they have a real willingness to learn and become a part of the community, and I think they are a very valuable part of our population, though they are often overlooked because they are such a small little group on campus, but they have done some really awesome things.”

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