Transfer Student Voices: Stephen Icaza
Stephen Icaza recentky graduated from Hunter College almunus a degree in Women and Gender Studies anda minor in Political Science. He will be applying to Law school in the fall of 2017 looking to practice law in intellectual property and international human rights. Stephen Icaza has always believed that an education is the only too with which to secure a lifestyle of success. He cares about social justice issues in America and has lent his voice to MTV during their "The Talk" campaign. He understands his success is only worthwhile if his community succeeds as well. Stephen is a persistent and hardworking young man and has enjoyed many accomplishments this past year including: helping to secure over $10,000 in funding for Hunter's Senior Legacy Committee; competing on the second place team, among 200 international schools, in a Model UN national conference; being a member of Hunter's senate, The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF), Black Male Initiative (BMI), Advocates for Queer Inclusion Policy and Safety (AQUIPS) and Hunter's Welfare Rights Initiative program (WRI), as part of their 21st cohort; working for the Anti Defamation league (ADL) in their marketing and communications office; ans presenting on the work he does for his Fellowship for the National Association of Student Affairs for Undergraduates (NUFP) at Rutgers last December on “Integrating Academic Affairs and Student Affairs." He wholeheartedly believes in the following quote: "I believe that my tears and smiles of the future will definitely become the bridge to my dream!"
Having recently ended my undergraduate career, I reflect on how I got to where I am today. I’ll start with my upbringing: First and foremost, in my house, education was of utmost importance. Both of my parents went to college and attended a CUNY school. There was an expectation that I’d follow in their footsteps and continue my education after high school. So, during my senior year – at the amazing NYC Lab High School – I knew I was going to college. While I was applying to college, the Stella and Charles Guttman Community College was opening its doors to its first class. Talk about perfect timing. I was, and still am, so happy to have been a part of that trailblazing class.
Next, my advisor: I learned about Guttman through my college guidance counselor. Sure, I could have left New York City for school and even gone to a 4-year college, but I needed a smaller setting. I knew I could get the proper attention and resources at a smaller school before tackling a larger one; it was strategic. There would be opportunities I could take advantage of as a freshman that others don’t have. For example, in my freshman year I balanced an internship, the role of student government president, being a member of the United Student State, and countless other responsibilities.
I am so grateful to Guttman for these experiences. Not only did I receive a rigorous education, but I also had access to many resources, including personal advisors, student success advocates, career strategists, as well as supportive mentors, faculty and staff. All of these factors were fundamental to my college success. Without them, I would not have completed college in 4 years as a transfer student. Law school applications are right around the corner for me, and I have a supportive network of two campuses, all made possible by the fact that I was a transfer student.
Reminiscing on my first day at Hunter College, there were huge challenges I need to overcome, including succeeding academically and professionally in two years, creating the same community dynamics I found at Guttman, and making new friends.
Socially, it was difficult because, as a transfer student, I didn’t know anyone. I had to be bold and talk to students I didn’t know in many of my classes. This is a pretty hard thing to do for someone like me who is actually quite shy and timid. After my experience at Guttman, however, I knew I could form my own community wherever I go. Even more importantly, Guttman taught how to advocate for myself, which was key in my transfer process. One of my greatest weapons as a transfer student was CUNY Pathways. Though CUNY Pathways has a mixed reputation and didn’t alleviate all of my difficulties, it made some of my transition quite smooth.
You would think that transferring into a big university system would be easy, but I can assure you it was not: Hunter only accepted half of the credits I earned with my degree. Additionally, it did not recognize a stats class I had completed as their math equivalent, meaning I had to retake math. I also had to change my major – which I’m glad about now – but that same change might not have worked for another student in similar circumstances. So, while I am happy to have attended Hunter College, it was not a smooth transition from Guttman. I graduated in June, completing college in 4 years as a transfer student, when the national average is 5-6 years.
If I could make any recommendations, the first would be to create a posse or cohort model geared exclusively towards transfer students at the senior colleges, especially the larger ones (such as Hunter, Baruch, and The City College of New York). Giving transfer students the chance to find others like them so they are not alone is so important. Secondly, I would suggest giving students accessible resources in similar to the way in which CUNY ASAP, Guttman, and Macaulay Honors College do. These programs are similar in that their students have access to dedicated resources such as advising, mentorship and professional development. We assume that since transfer students have some college under their belts they should navigate the transition well. I can tell you we do not and we do not have immediate access to resources on our new campuses at all. Now I know I am speaking wishes into the air, but let me leave you with this thought.
Many transfer students – especially those attending CUNY – are bright students from disenfranchised groups arriving at school with a number of issues. They have limited resources to begin with, and, transferring to a new college only further strains those resources they may have had. When we observe some students within the CUNY system, they have many resources made available to them. We never question the resources given to our most successful students, and we shouldn’t limit the accessibility or resources for those students that might need it the most – such as transfer students.