Transfer Students Learn the Ropes Through Peer Mentor Program

Alondra Gamino was a bit apprehensive last fall when she transferred from El Centro College to The University of Texas at Dallas.

The arts and technology sophomore was intimidated by the academic rigors of a four-year university. She didn’t know about resources like career guidance. She wasn’t quite sure how to calculate her GPA.

And a commute of over an hour by train and city bus left her little time to find answers.

Alondra Gamino chats with her mentor, Sarah Smith

Sophomore transfer student Alondra Gamino (left) chats with her mentor, senior Sarah Smith. They were successfully paired in the new Transfer Mentor Program, which helps transfer students make the transition to life at UT Dallas.

Fortunately for Gamino, the new Transfer Mentor Program paired her with a peer expert — Sarah Smith, an emerging media and communication senior in the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication.

“I didn’t know what to expect. But a lot of the questions I had, she had already experienced,” Gamino said.

To help incoming transfer students gain a stronger connection to UT Dallas and to provide support for their unique needs and challenges, the Office of Undergraduate Education partnered with Transfer Student Services, part of Student Transition Programs in the Division of Student Affairs, to launch the Transfer Mentor Program last fall.

The program is a component of the University’s Quality Enhancement Plan, Orbit: Keeping New Comets on Course, and is based on the successful Freshman Mentor Program, which began in 2012 and now serves more than 1,100 student participants this academic year.

Dr. Jessica C. Murphy, dean of undergraduate education and associate professor of literary studies, said the Transfer Mentor Program honors the importance of transfer students to the history and traditions at UT Dallas.

“During my undergraduate career, I transferred twice, so I can imagine how effective the mentorship model could be for our transfer students,” Murphy said. “Who better than someone who has been through it to help another incoming transfer student and relieve their anxiety about adjusting to a new campus environment and culture.”

Jessica Murphy portrait

During my undergraduate career, I transferred twice, so I can imagine how effective the mentorship model could be for our transfer students.

Dr. Jessica C. Murphy, dean of undergraduate education

Incoming transfer students reported in surveys taken last summer that they anticipated challenges in connecting with peers, navigating the campus, maintaining school-life balance, figuring out a new campus culture, learning better time management and new study habits, communicating with professors and coping with age differences.

Smith, now 29, recalled how she felt when she came to UT Dallas to study public relations and social strategy after an international career as a model in her early 20s.

“It was daunting for me — not knowing where you stand academically with your peers, and just navigating the campus,” Smith said.

When Smith heard the University was starting a mentoring program for transfer students, she realized she had something to offer.

“I actually wanted to give back to someone who’s a little bit younger. And I realized I was missing my sister,” Smith said.

Word about the Transfer Mentor Program spread to incoming transfer students during their orientations and through email and social media. The response was overwhelming — with more than 175 requesting mentors.

More mentors are being sought for fall 2018, and mentees who were not able to be placed in the program last fall have been invited to spring events to ensure that they received the support and opportunities they needed to feel connected to the University and to succeed academically. For more information, email the Office of Undergraduate Education at [email protected]

Mentors meet informally with their mentees twice a month and participate in social and service experiences that encourage positive academic outcomes and an increased sense of belonging.

Smith and Gamino have gone out to Tex-Mex restaurants and attended theater events off campus. Smith often gives Gamino a ride home from campus.

“I’m sure that we will remain friends,” said Smith, who lives in downtown Dallas. “We only live 12 minutes apart, so it will be easy to stay connected.”

Gamino, 21, who lives at home with her parents and two younger sisters, agreed.

“It was destiny for us to be paired. She’s actually become more of a friend.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].