Samuel Portillo still has some of the emails University of Arizona advisers sent him when he was getting ready to transfer from Pima Community College.
“Well done in your fall 2014 coursework. Solid performance dude,” wrote Joseph McCollough, or “Dr. Joe,” the College of Engineering’s coordinator for transfer student enrollment.
Portillo started attending the UA after high school, but between scheduling conflicts, transportation issues and not being sure what he wanted to study, he dropped out during the first semester. He started over at Pima, worked hard, and was ready to transfer into the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering after one year.
“I think my transfer process only took about a month, and that was something I wasn’t really expecting,” Portillo said. “I felt like I was encouraged by the faculty to ask questions if I didn’t understand anything. They were really accommodating on working with me through my nontraditional road to a four-year degree.”
Dr. Joe’s email was just one part of the culture in the College of Engineering and the University of Arizona that welcomes and encourages transfer students. As a result, Phi Theta Kappa, an honors society for community college students, recognized the University of Arizona as one of the 112 colleges and universities on its 2018 Transfer Honor Roll.
Phi Theta Kappa honors institutions that demonstrate exceptional commitment to transfer students by providing pre- and post-transfer support, fostering institutional partnerships and collaborations, tracking community college data and developing new methods for recruiting and accommodating transfer students.
One of the most important elements of a successful transfer program is support from the college’s administrative team, said Dr. Joe, who also works to keep community college advisers, department heads and faculty members up to date on the UA application process and timeframe.
A Track for Every Transfer
Opportunities for transfer students through the UA Transfer Center range from Harry Potter movie nights and campus scavenger hunts to office hours with faculty fellows and professional development opportunities through the TransferCats in Action club. Portillo, however, was busy diving headfirst into organizations in the College of Engineering, such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and Engineering Ambassadors.
The University of Arizona College of Engineering is a friendly, family-oriented group of students who all sit together, hang together and support each other. They help each other; they tutor each other. It’s a great transfer school.”
“I didn’t feel excluded or alienated coming in as a transfer student. I felt very accepted. Everyone was very collaborative and very accepting. Part of why I didn’t utilize resources specifically for transfer students was because I already felt integrated into the school and the department through my classes and my professors.”
Dr. Joe encourages all students he encounters to get involved with campus clubs and research opportunities, not only to build their resumes and professional networks, but also to expand their social circles. In lieu of office hours, he tells students they’re free to come by and ask questions any time.
“The University of Arizona College of Engineering is a friendly, family-oriented group of students who all sit together, hang together and support each other,” he said. “They help each other; they tutor each other. It’s a great transfer school.”
Twins Alejandra and Fernanda Fraijo Arce are also transfers from Pima Community College. Originally from Hermosillo, Mexico, the sisters vacationed in Tucson when they were teenagers.
“As soon as I saw the UA, I fell in love with it,” said Alejandra.
Fernanda took classes to transfer into the UA’s Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, and Alejandra studied to become a dietitian. The semester before she was planning to transfer to the UA, Alejandra decided she wanted something more challenging: a chemical engineering degree.
Thanks to plenty of overlap and some help from UA advisers, she was able to take all of the remaining courses over the summer and transferred to the University right on schedule. As an Engineering Ambassador, Alejandra, now a senior, provides potential transfers with a student perspective.
Like her sister, Fernanda used a guide on the Pima Community College website and the advice of friends who had already transferred to determine which classes she should take each semester. In her last semester at Pima, a UA civil engineering adviser told her she was on track. Now that she’s officially a UA alumna -- one with an internship at DPR Construction and plans to pursue a master’s degree in structural engineering at UA -- she can confirm it.
“I’ve had the two best years of my life,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of people and gained a lot of knowledge from my classes, work experience and extracurricular activities. The UA has opened so many doors for me. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I think I had a great opportunity to come here and study, and I will always be thankful.”