In her closing remarks to this year’s cohort, Transitions Intern Taylor Veasley ’18 wrote to this year’s 56-student group, “You did not get in because of your disadvantages, but in spite of them.”
On Sept. 1, the Vassar Transitions program was featured in a story entitled “Helping low-income college students feel at home” on the American Public Media radio program Marketplace.
The Transitions program, now in its sixth year, was created to help confront the social pressures facing low-income, first-generation and veteran students on campus and to help those students adjust to life at Vassar. Dean of Studies Benjamin Lotto commented, “What our students were telling us is that they felt that they didn’t belong. They were great students. They graduated. They did good work. They got good grades, but they weren’t happy here. They felt like the school was for someone else” (Marketplace, “Helping low-income college students feel at home,” 9.01.15).
As the Los Angeles-based radio show noted, the Transitions program seeks to address those issues in the week before freshmen begin orientation, offering workshops and mentorship on career development and financial aid in addition to providing students with a working knowledge of the College’s various support systems as well as a sense of community among students to whom they may relate more easily. Transitions Intern Italo Calderón ’18, who himself was unable to participate in the program during his first year, commended Transitions’ efforts in providing essential information that many students could otherwise be unaware of. “I was never given a run down of the vast amount of resources we had here on campus (I didn’t know/used the writing center or Q-center, until my second semester),” Calderón wrote in an emailed statement. “I found it extremely beneficial as a second-year student to (re)learn about all these resources available to me, some of which I felt were a little inaccessible to me my first year.”
Omri Bareket ’19, who was one of 56 students in this year’s cohort, felt particularly strongly about the tools the program has given him to navigate college life socially and academically, and has already resolved to work in the program in the near future. “We were given tools by Transitions and as students with that privilege, it is our duty to use and pass on those tools to our fellow peers and future generations…” he said. “I’m deeply honored and humbled to be one of a select few who are able to fulfill that position and can’t wait to continue the work for years to come. I look forward to being a Transitions Intern for each move-in day of my career here at Vassar and to continue to grow as a family as well as individually.”
Despite media praise, however, the program and those working for it are far from complacent. Calderón remarked that there is much room for improvement in preparing its cohorts for the culture shock of life at Vassar. “Perhaps one thing I wished we did a little more was talk about the larger Vassar community,” he commented. “Regardless of all the positiveness and support we give the students, coming into a school that is mostly white and higher income is always going to be a great culture shock. And that can be a little disheartening.”
He continued, “Coming from an intimate program of 56 students that instills in them a sense of belonging, support, and self-worth and going into another program (orientation) where there are 600 students (most of which are white and wealthy) where they are seemingly ‘just another student’ can be a lot to take in. And while I understand that there is only so much Transitions can prepare them for, I feel that a little more time should be dedicated to having conversations with the students about what they may encounter as soon as all of Vassar gets here. That way at least they enter with an idea of what to expect so that it may potentially lessen the culture shock they may experience.”
Transitions Co-Coordinator Tyler Fultz also asserted that in light of student feedback, the program’s leadership is constantly planning improvements for the coming years. “There have been a number of changes so far and there are plenty more in the works,” Fultz wrote in an emailed statement. “The pre-orientation program was a full day longer this year than it had been in the past, now reaching a total of 6 days. We also had our largest incoming cohort this year which hit 56 students, including 6 Posse veterans. The full day extension meant that we were able to incorporate far more down time into the program as well as an opportunity for students to tour the city of Poughkeepsie prior to orientation.”
Calderón remarked at the particular benefit of the added day, “With nearly back-to-back programming (including info sessions, classes with homework, structured social activities), Transitions can be a very overwhelming program. By making it longer, it gave us and the students more down time. I believe it allowed for more instances where the students could make connections/friendships in a more natural, less formal way. It also allowed for more fun activities at the end of the program, as a way to start winding down before orientation.”
Fultz and fellow Co-Coordinator Diane Eshelman, however, wished to emphasize the fact that Transitions is not a program working only for incoming freshmen during pre-orientation, but one that looks after its participants throughout their time at Vassar through networking opportunities like monthly Transitions bunches and programming in conjunction with other student resources on campus, like the Career Development Office (CDO). According to Eshelman, Transitions began putting out a bi-weekly newsletter this year, highlighting upcoming events and showcasing the achievements of Transitions students, and had its first ever Senior Summit. Fultz explained, “Last weekend, we launched, in tandem with the CDO and upon the recommendation of the Committee on Inclusion and Excellence, the first annual Transitions Senior Summit, a full day of workshops for low-income and first-generation seniors to prepare them for thesis writing, searching for jobs, and applying to graduate school.”
He continued, “We had 25 students attend, along with another 25 faculty and administrators for our mock networking session, including Cappy. We have received a lot of positive feedback so far and are in the process of brainstorming ways to improve upon it next year.” The creation of the Senior Summit was, however, only one of the many projects that the Transitions program will pursue with the help of the $1 million grant given to Vassar in April by the Cooke Foundation for its accomplishments in financial aid.”
Despite being in a constant state of evolution, Transitions’ leadership maintained that they have no intention of allowing themselves to fall back on praise or achievements, although many expressed their happiness at being recognized for their efforts. Calderón reflected, “I feel that being covered by Marketplace just reinforces the happiness and pride we felt after the program. It feels good to be acknowledged for the work you do! Also, I feel that the students really enjoyed the coverage because it gave them a sense that Transitions is a great program that’s worth being covered. There were a lot of students who were sharing the article on Facebook stating how proud and thankful they were to be part of such a program.”
Bareket echoed the sentiment, expressing particular gratitude towards founder of the program, Luis Inoa. “It’s empowering to know that we have an impact outside of our closeknit family,” he said. “As important as it was for us to be within ourselves, the fact that others see the vitality of a program like Transitions is a humbling fact for us all…”