Best of Scene

Each year, more than 200 transfer students bring fresh perspective to campus

By Steve Hansen, Photos Jordan Hartman '02
When asked what makes a typical transfer student, Joelle Pretty, PLU’s director of transfer recruitment had a simple answer. “There is no typical transfer student.”

Each year, PLU admits between 250 to 300 transfer students to campus. Some are in their 50s, looking to complete a degree they’d left unfinished earlier in life. Some are just a year or two removed from high school. Some are from families that have never before sent a child to college. Others have transferred from a four-year university and are simply looking for something more to their liking.

In short, PLU’s transfer population is a diverse mix of students from all walks of life. And that might be exactly why many on campus see the influx of such students as such a good thing.

“The one thing they do have in common – they are focused; going to college is an opportunity they are not going to waste,” Pretty said. “And they have a depth of experience that traditional age students can’t contribute. That’s an invaluable asset to have on campus.”

Take Riley Relfe, a transfer from Green River Community College.

At Green River, she had been extremely involved, working as the president of the local honor society and at the local radio station. When she came to PLU, there was never any question that she’d get involved – the only question was where. Then her advisor suggested that she might consider getting involved in student leadership with ASPLU. The next day, she was running for an off-campus transfer senator position. And she won.

That same orientation process also gave Relfe her cause. “It can be hard, especially at first, to make sure transfer students feel connected to their new school,” she said. “We may be a little bit older than the freshmen, but when we get here, we are just as confused as everybody else.”

So, as a new ASPLU senator, Relfe went looking into ways to improve the orientation process to make transfer students feel more comfortable. She promptly used her new position to meet with organizers, where she was able to offer suggestions and work to implement them.

For Relfe, now a continuing senior political science major who is considering PLU’s graduate program in Marriage and Family Therapy, this was a perfect opportunity to join her past experience on another campus with PLU’s focus on plugging students into situations where they can best succeed.

“The chance to get involved and make real changes – that makes you feel powerful,” she said. “In doing it here, I know it can work in the real world.”

Donald Kinsey knows a little something about the real world. He’s been in it, by his own admission, for a long time. After more than 16 years in the Army, he’s now retired. For him, the appeal was not only the opportunity to complete his business accounting degree, but that he could do so a mere three miles from his home.

He took some classes at Tacoma Community College before transferring to PLU. The transition was easy. “They did a great job making sure I knew the things I needed to know,” he said. “They stayed on top of it.”

Kinsey pretty much sticks to the Morken Center, where most of the classes take place. That’s fine by him, he understands that much of the programming outside his classroom is largely geared toward younger students. He’s here for the degree. As a pastor of a small church in the area, Jehovah Baptist, he wants to make sure he can be a caretaker for the entire church – not just for his fellow worshippers, but financially as well.

From that perspective, the fact that PLU is a Lutheran university also appealed to him. However, now that he’s a little deeper into his classes, he said he’d like to see the university embrace its religious side a bit more. “But that’s OK,” he said. “I know why I’m here. I’ll deal with it.”

Jake Taylor’s college career began a bit differently – he started at another four-year college, Evergreen State College. He decided that wasn’t the best place for him, so he took the long road, taking classes at North Seattle and Tacoma community colleges before arriving on the PLU campus.

The trip has given him a wealth of experience from which to compare notes. For Taylor, his previous experiences didn’t allow him to get what he wanted out of the university experience – namely, a personal connection.

“At some of the other schools, I really had to put myself out there to meet new people, and it was hard,” Taylor recalled. “Here, I can do that. This place has been really accepting and open-minded – people can really be themselves here.”

That has certainly been the case on the men’s soccer team, for which Taylor plays. The younger players, which is just about everyone, call him “uncle.” He laughs at that, but notes that the experience has been a great teaching experience – he’s teaching some of his fellow players Spanish, and he’s learning some Norwegian.

Taylor plans to major in global studies and journalism and take those skills back to Tumaco, Colombia, where he plans to do volunteer work in literacy camps. The region is very important to him – he was adopted at an early age and lived in Gig Harbor, Wash., but Tumaco is where his birth parents are from. He relishes the opportunity to return to the area and give back to those who have not had as many opportunities available to them.

“Giving something back” is certainly something these students, along with many others at PLU, have in common. Giving back to other transfer students, to the congregation, to those who are less fortunate.

“Each transfer student is different, but that is why they are so valuable,” Pretty said. “Every individual journey they have taken makes the PLU community that much stronger.”

And clearly, we all are better for it.