UC Santa Cruz celebrates transfer students

October 21, 2019

By: Matthew Alvarez

To honor transfer students during national Transfer Student Week, UC Santa Cruz will feature five students who are active in our community, taking a deeper look at their experiences and stories as part of a UC systemwide effort. In fall 2019, UC Santa Cruz expected to again enroll one California transfer student for every two California first-year students, admitting 6,331 California transfer students, an 18 percent increase over 2017.

Transfer students are supported by the Services for Transfer Students and Re-entry Students (STARS), which provides culturally responsive support to transfer, re-entry, veteran students, as well as students who do not have traditional family support due to experiences in the foster care system, with homelessness, abuse, parents who have been incarcerated, or other factors impacting their family life.

Every day this week a new transfer student story will be featured. Join in the conversation using #TransferStudentWeek on Instagram and Facebook.

Joshua Solis

joshua-photoJoshua Solis’ story is one of incredible growth and achievement. In a recent interview, he said that obtaining a degree will be a symbol of how far he has come and where he sees himself going. It’s personal. Solis was incarcerated as a youth. He did not have a clear idea of where that lifestyle and path would lead. Those early beginnings and where he stands now demonstrates his dedication and personal growth. Getting his degree from UC Santa Cruz will symbolizes so much more than simply getting a degree.

Solis explains that he was incredibly humbled to be out of prison. Initially, he did not know what he wanted to do and entered the workforce. Not long afterwards, Solis notes he found himself wanting to go back to school, saying that this was an idea he had considered long before he got out of prison. To him, going back to school meant starting at a community college but he soon found himself interested in pursuing a four-year degree at a university and UC Santa Cruz seemed a great option.

Solis notes the path forward was complicated. He had to have a series of uncomfortable conversations concerning his parole and time in prison. There is stigma beginnings, notes Solis, has been empowering.

Reflecting on the experience of a transfer student at UC Santa Cruz, Solis speaks to the common case of students with no previous connections or exposure to a university. He shares that it becomes a much bigger deal when you grow up in an environment where nobody has ever been close to that world.

Solis’ first interaction with the staff at STARS  was at the fall resource fair where STARS had a table. The biggest impact, he notes was having someone he could really identify with. Solis emphasises the personal connections he made, and says he really feels STARS helped him understand the campus and guided him to “make well informed decisions about what I wanted to do.” Today, Solis aims to serve a similar role, personally connect with those who come from the same background as himself.

Heather Willoughby

heather-willoughbyjpgHeather Willoughby says to her, a degree from a four-year university means that she is coming back to finish something she left long ago. She is a re-entry student currently finishing her bachelor's degree in biology.

Her initial time here was jarring. Willoughby notes that she had become accustomed to the semester system and that the speed of the quarter system made it difficult to adjust at first. Now things are different. Willoughby started her re-entry with summer classes to “get ready for the pace,” and says this helped her adjust.

Besides being prepared, Willoughby also says her re-entry differs from her past attendance in a big way. She is a single parent this time around, which brings a lot to her experience here at UC Santa Cruz. In a recent interview, Willoughby spoke about the incredible motivation she finds through this. She emphasizes that this has been a huge drive in her success thus far. She also spoke about how academic life can be a bit tough as a single parent, specifically citing the difficulties of pursuing research projects.

In the interview, Willoughby notes that STARS has really helped her through the new complications she has ran into. When she had gone to STARS with her issue involving research projects, they sat down with her and helped evaluate the situation and options. Willoughby says the biggest thing she got from the staff at STARS was the help in adjusting her trajectory to what it needed to be. 

Willoughby noted that although she is almost finished with her bachelor's degree, she has plans to return. She hopes to pursue a PHD in sociology in the future.

Karlee Sprowl

karlee-sprowlIn a recent interview with Karlee Sprowl, it was immediately clear she has worked hard to get the most out of her time at UC Santa Cruz. She noted that she has always worked hard to secure the best future for herself. Sprowl had initial doubts. She never thought she would get the chance to earn a four-year degree, but now stands at “the end of a long journey.”

This long journey includes her struggle to find time for community college alongside her need to live financially independent. She says it was during this period of her life that she was able to work full time as a manager and gain a new perspective for the rest of her journey. With this background, Sprowl decided she wanted to pursue a degree from a four-year university and open up her future to more options.

“I came back to school because I wanted to. I came here with the intent of soaking up every possible thing I could, trying everything I can...just making the most of it, especially because I only have two years,” said Sprowl.

During the interview, Sprowl said her first interaction with the staff at STARS was before she even studied here. She says the transfer process was scary but by speaking with STARS staff she was able to calm her nerves. Once she began her time at the university, the STARS staff continued to help her. In her effort to give back, Sprowl now works at STARS, providing new transfer students with the same supportive experience she received. After graduation, she plans to pursue teaching or a counseling career.

Daniel Alfaro Cortez

daniel-cortez.jpgDaniel originally lived in Mexico before moving to the United States. He calls his time in the U.S. the start of his “new life.” This new life began at San Jose City College where he worked and took courses in dentistry. Cortez then realized that dentistry wasn't what he wanted to do so he made a transition. It is here at UC Santa Cruz in the Computer Science and Engineering department where Cortez has found a home, where he feels able to actively problem-solve while expressing himself creatively.

 Despite how he feels now, Cortez recalls those initial weeks making the transition. It was difficult. In a recent interview, Cortez spoke about the “disconnect” he struggled with as a transfer student who commuted from San Jose. This disconnect is one many transfer students might deal with, Cortez explained, it may come from feeling the students who live on campus have more resources readily available and accessible.

 This “disconnect” Cortez did experience but it does not bother him now. Instead, Cortez notes, the strong support he received is what got him to where he is now. Cortez refers to his time here at UC Santa Cruz as “two amazing years,” and despite the sense of feeling lost in his first quarter, he notes he found a home at STARS. 

 Cortez has only one quarter left and is excited to graduate and then find work in a field he has a passion for. He plans to work in Graphic Design and User Interface. He’s excited to find these passions where he is able to really express himself in what he is good at. 

Matthew Enders

matthewenders-transfer-student.jpgMatthew Enders is a veteran pursuing his degree here at UC Santa Cruz. His work in the military informed the path he eventually took to get to UC Santa Cruz. Enders worked in drug and alcohol treatment and education. When he completes his degree, he plans to return to substance abuse program work to support military personnel. To him, a degree from UC Santa Cruz will allow him to stay close to his own family while doing something that will have a big impact on others.

Enders says he did not have a good idea of what it meant to be a transfer student moving from a community college to a four-year university. The change he had to undergo being a transfer student was complex given his life in the military and now compared to his new life here at Santa Cruz.

“Through the whole thing there has been hands held out, and it’s always been up to me to say, yeah, I would like to accept your help,” said Enders in a recent interview. It is often difficult for students to reach out for help, he notes, especially when they are accustomed to being independent. Enders shared that STARS worked to get him the resources he needed to successfully transition to UC Santa Cruz.

“The STARS office really genuinely cares about people who transfer in from wherever,” noted Enders. He reflected that STARS staff meet the students where they are and were able to adapt their support for the unique situation of each student.

Looking forward, Enders explains his journey here really revolves around getting his degree to be able to get the job he wants, ultimately with the goal of staying close to his son and impacting lives.