Faculty mentors help pave the way to success for App State transfer students

Newlin, a junior majoring in psychology is a research assistant to her Faculty Transfer Mentor, Dr. Mark Zrull.

Students who transfer to Appalachian State University find support programs tailored to promote their success — including opportunities to connect with Faculty Transfer Mentors — through the university’s Office of Transfer Services.

This fall, 1,449 new transfer students — 1,230 on Appalachian’s main campus and 219 App State Online enrollees — joined the Mountaineer population. Some will take the initiative to connect with one of over 100 faculty mentors who have been trained by the Office of Transfer Services to understand the specific needs of transfer students and who will support their academic development.

The mentors, who are most often in the student’s area of study, aid the student in understanding the curriculum and coursework requirements, and provide guidance, support and referral to resources.

“Faculty play a critical role in a student’s success,” said Dr. Kim Morton, associate director in the Office of Transfer Services. “Since transfer students are coming in later than traditional first-year students, they have less time to establish relationships. The faculty mentors help bridge that gap. They take the transfer students under their wings and introduce them to experiences and resources to help them succeed.”

In some cases, faculty mentors involve students in their own research, as in these examples:

Josh Arford

Faculty Transfer Mentor: Dr. Trina Palmer

Josh Arford, a senior from Waynesville majoring in mathematics, earned an associate degree at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College prior to transferring to Appalachian.

“The research opportunities in the Appalachian High Achievers in STEM program played a big role in my transferring to App State,” Arford shared. “Being accepted into the program made my choice easy.”

Working with his Faculty Transfer Mentor, Dr. Trina Palmer, a professor in Appalachian’s Department of Mathematical Sciences, Arford leads a research team to analyze data from the Toledo Test — an exam designed to evaluate how well a student is prepared for college-level introductory chemistry. The team examines the data to determine if the pass/fail margin is appropriate and if the exam results indicate student success in introductory chemistry.

“I meet weekly with Dr. Palmer to discuss the project,” Arford said. “This research opportunity gives me a chance to take things I have learned in class and apply them to the real world. My team and I have a chance to have an impact before we graduate.”

Arford said he advises other transfer students to pick up an internship or research project as soon as they are able to do so. “Employers are looking for instances where you apply your learning,” he said.

Gabby Gil

Faculty Transfer Mentor: Sarah Donovan

Gabby Gil, a senior social work major from Charlotte, works as a research assistant with her Faculty Transfer Mentor, Sarah Donovan, a lecturer in Appalachian’s Department of Social Work, on Juntos — a program that empowers middle school and high school Latino youth to achieve high school graduation and pursue higher education.

“I am able to witness the positive impact the program had on participants,” said Gil, who interacts with Latino students and their families at weekly Juntos meetings and while organizing program evaluations.

Gil, who serves as a Transfer Student Mentor through the Office of Transfer Services, transferred to Appalachian after attending Central Piedmont Community College. “I chose App State because I wanted a university that would make it easy to feel connected and involved with my school community. I’d also heard great things about App’s social work program,” she shared.

Gil accompanied Donovan and Dr. Brent James, a senior lecturer of Portuguese and Spanish in Appalachian’s Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, to El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, last summer to gain a better understanding of issues at the border and meet with professionals and volunteers who work directly with the Latino immigrant community.

“These opportunities have helped me grow as a student and have helped me decide which communities I would like to work with as a future social worker,” Gil said.

Leigh Bernardy

Faculty Transfer Mentor: Dr. Becki Battista

Leigh Bernardy, a senior exercise science major from Falmouth, Maine, said she emphasized opportunities for research in making the decision to transfer to Appalachian from High Point University just before her junior year.

“Before accepting the offer to attend Appalachian, I sat down with one of the exercise science professors. After learning about the diverse interests of the faculty, the extensive research opportunities and the valuable connections App State had to offer, it was essentially a done deal,” Bernardy said.

Bernardy said her initial research aspirations and objectives were broadened by spending time with her Faculty Transfer Mentor, Dr. Becki Battista, a professor in Appalachian’s Department of Health and Exercise Science and the director of the Office of Student Research, a unit within University College. Battista included Bernardy in research through Appalachian’s Healthy Outdoor Play and Exercise (HOPE) Lab, which supports and promotes physical activity in the outdoors.

“Dr. Battista granted me multiple academic opportunities and even developed into a career adviser,” Bernardy shared. “She took the time to get to know me as a person and devoted her efforts to guide me into a field I found a passion for. She then worked with me one-on-one in an independent study to continue developing that passion.”

Working together with Battista provided her a sense of fulfillment, Bernardy said. “If it hadn’t been for her willingness to listen and her guidance, I would likely still be questioning my career path as a student,” she added.

Madeline Newlin

Faculty Transfer Mentor: Dr. Mark Zrull

A love of the mountains drew her to Appalachian, said Madeline Newlin, a junior from Winston-Salem majoring in psychology. She said she transferred from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in order to explore new career paths.

Newlin met her Faculty Transfer Mentor — Dr. Mark Zrull, a professor in Appalachian’s Department of Psychology — and joined his lab as a research assistant. Currently, they are working with adolescent rats to investigate how an enriched environment affects social interaction.

“Working with Dr. Zrull made me more confident as a student and made my career goals feel more tangible,” Newlin said. “The hands-on experience has been a good way to explore and solidify my interest in neuroscience.”

For other transfer students still trying to determine their career goals, Newlin said she’d recommend taking advantage of any general education requirements still needed, to obtain a sense of what a major in that field might be like. “Also, try to get to know people with a variety of goals and interests — not just those who seem similar to the person you are now,” she said.

Israel Sanchez

Faculty Transfer Mentor: Dr. Andy Heckert

Israel Sanchez, a senior from Roseboro majoring in geology, transferred to Appalachian after earning an Associate of Arts degree at Sampson Community College. “I chose Appalachian for its excellent geology program, specifically in the paleontology concentration,” he said.

Sanchez traveled with his Faculty Transfer Mentor, Dr. Andy Heckert, a professor in Appalachian’s Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, to the southwestern U.S. to learn how to collect fossils in the field and study museum methods.

Heckert invited Sanchez to join his research team, where Sanchez works in the Paleontological Research lab to break down rock material known to have microfossils.

Serving on Heckert’s research team has made Sanchez feel like a member of a family, he said. “I would advise other transfer students to seek out opportunities provided at Appalachian — sharing experiences can lead to some great times and great friends,” he said.

In addition to the Faculty Transfer Mentor program, the university’s Office of Transfer Services offers a number of other programs and organizations to help transfer students thrive at Appalachian.

By Jan Todd

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