Students explore liberal arts with Exploring Transfer Program

Nolvia Delgado, Image courtesy of Kaplan Educational Foundation

Vassar’s 2022 Exploring Transfer Program (ET), hosted every summer on Vassar’s campus, gives community college students the chance to experience residential and academic life at a liberal arts college in preparation for potentially transfering to more selective schools. During the five-week program, about 30 students take two full-credit courses designed and taught by both Vassar and community college professors. For this upcoming summer, it will take place from June 17 through July 22.  

Plans for the program began in 1983 when LaGuardia Community College reached out to Vassar with an interest in establishing greater connection between community colleges and selective liberal arts colleges. This program, then known as the “Vassar Summer Program for Community College Students,” was launched in the summer of 1985. Since then, the program has expanded to include sixteen community colleges across the country.  

The program has created notable alumni, including Nolvia Delgado, for whom Exploring Transfer served as an opportunity for complete immersion in academics and as preparation for her transfer to Smith College. She first heard of the program via email while studying at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC). “The program sounded like an amazing opportunity and I decided to apply,” she said. “At BMCC there were advisors dedicated to helping students through the application process, which was extremely helpful.” 

Delgado now serves as the leader of Kaplan Educational Foundation, another program that helps community college students transfer to selective colleges. At Kaplan Educational Foundation, Delgado helps other community college students explore the possibility of transferring to selective colleges. She credits Vassar’s Exploring Transfer program with exposing her to the importance of a community college experience. “Exploring Transfer taught me the importance of pre-transfer academic experiences in addition to the learning already taking place at community colleges,” she said. 

Since the program is designed to have students focus on two full-credit classes over the course of five weeks instead of a semester, students have the opportunity to devote themselves entirely to their academics. For many community college students, who excel at juggling multiple commitments such as classes, commuting and work, this distraction-free educational structure presents a unique opportunity to concentrate on school. Delgado reflected on this academically intensive environment, stating, “I focused on my studies, took advantage of the resources available on campus, and got to know my peers in a way that I could not as a commuter student.”

The courses that students pursue during their time in the program are often multidisciplinary and cover various parts of the classic liberal arts curriculum, in departments such as English, Political Science, Economics and Environmental Science. Given the intensity of the program, Director of the Exploring Transfer program Kariane Calta and the program’s staff have set up structures to support students who may face a wide range of difficulties. “Each class has a Teaching Assistant who holds office hours on weeknights and Sunday afternoons,” Calta said. According to Calta, four residential fellows also live in the dorms with the students and serve as sources of emotional and social support. 

When not studying, students can also explore the greater Hudson Valley region, taking Saturday trips together to museums such as Dia Beacon and Storm King, and natural landmarks such as Lake Minnewaska. 

The connections that students make through these social experiences are a key part of the program. Calta attributes the sense of community to the students’ wide-ranging backgrounds. “What’s unique and also wonderful about ET is the diversity of the student body. Some of our students are eighteen or nineteen and living away from home for the first time, while others have been working and raising families for many years,” she said. “Students build friendships with each other, their TAs and [residential fellows], and their instructors that last well after the program ends. Most of our alumni—and our faculty—would tell you that although the program is intensely challenging, it is a life-changing experience.”

According to Calta, the trust and experience shared between Exploring Transfer students often encourages them to go on to pursue a Bachelor’s degree at a selective college. After their time at the program, many students transfer to liberal arts colleges such as Vassar, Swarthmore, Amherst and SUNY New Paltz, among others. 

For those interested, Delgado advises students to take the chance to engulf themselves in the academic and residential experience provided by the program. She said, “Remain on campus for the duration of the program, get to know your professors, familiarize yourself with the campus, and learn from your peers.”

The Exploring Transfer program can not only give students the experience of living and learning at a selective college, but help them see their own academic potential. As Delgado put it, “Completing the Exploring Transfer program has served as a motivator because it is a reminder that if I work hard and plan accordingly there is nothing that I cannot achieve.” 

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