Transfer students reckon with remote learning

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Transfer students reckon with remote learning

By Danica Creahan

On a Friday afternoon in early September, the Lion Transfer Network (LTN) gathered to carry out the club’s purpose and foster the mingling of new and returning LMU transfer students. 

In pre-pandemic times, the LTN helped transfer students tackle typical transfer concerns. Need someone to show you where SPS is? Someone to tell you which dining hall is best? Someone to sit with at said dining hall? LTN operated with the goal of fostering a network of students to assist in acclimating transfers to campus, with an emphasis on social accommodation. But since the mid-March exodus from campus, the trials and tribulations of transfer students have shifted. 

Fellow transfer student Claire Lukehart can attest to this. As a transfer from last spring, Lukehart’s first semester at LMU was cut short by the pandemic and she’s been feeling checked out of college ever since. 

“My college experience has been pretty rocky and when I finally found LMU I felt like I was where I was supposed to be. I’m just disappointed because I was only able to enjoy it for half a semester. Now it doesn’t really feel like I ‘go to LMU,’ I just log into zoom and that’s it,” said Lukehart, who feels that the challenges for transfer students differ from those of traditional four years. 

“I was only on campus for half a semester so I hadn’t yet developed any friends or study groups. It’s harder to immerse yourself into a community where most people are in their third year of college, and already have those friends and study groups,” said Lukehart. “I can imagine transitioning to online would be a little bit better if you still had connections to friends from school,” 

A student like Lukehart would have been the perfect candidate to attend an LTN meeting during her first semester, but connecting with students remotely is posing to be a challenge for the club. The struggle to rise to it was on full display during their first meeting of the semester back in early September.  

Replacing the often awkward introductions from students shuffling around the meeting room, seeking cracks in the social ice, were user errors and webcam confusion. The meeting took place on YoTribe. The platform, meant to simulate the free-flowing environment of a coffee shop or club meeting, fell flat of a surrogate meeting space. 

In the landscape of remote learning, the pitfalls for transfer students have widened. Asynchronous and Zoom-based classes often leave little room for social connection, and while clubs are getting creative with their community-building tactics, there’s only so far you can reach out from behind a screen. 

LTN has come to understand this since that first virtual club meeting 

“We’re discovering that while transfers want to do things, it is difficult to hold a one-hour meeting where people are free and even then, it’s difficult to motivate them to attend another online meeting,” said LTN co-president and senior Christian Agbayani. 

So the club is pivoting to utilizing Discord as their community-building space to bypass the hassle of wrangling enough transfer students into one space at one time. 

Still, Agbayani can understand why students may be less inclined to attend meetings. 

“The social transition has been a bit difficult. I’m feeling a little connected to campus and the community but only certain parts of it, like with my classmates outside of class,” said Agbayani, who transferred to LMU in the fall of 2018.

The transition to living back at home with his family in Mountain View, California has also been slow going for him, “It feels like I’m taking summer courses and the value of my time hasn’t really hit me yet.”

Agbayani served as a transfer orientation leader this fall and is sympathetic to the incoming students navigating the social scene. 

“I think the main challenge is just making friends. Besides classes, there aren’t many ways for transfer students to meet new people in general or get connected without places like The Den, the Lair, or the Loft it’s difficult to even meet new people.”

Junior Brenda Covarrubias, the other co-president of LTN, also understands why engagement might be lacking. 

“Students have a lack of motivation attending virtual social and cultural life events... This leads to students not being socially engaged or not meeting new people, not willing to participate because it’s virtual,” she said. 

Senior Matt Farren transferred in the Fall of 2019 and attributes his lasting connection to the LMU community to his living with another student and being part of a bubble of students he regularly socializes with. But Farren can understand feeling disconnected, especially during these times, 

“I took a few online classes during the summer, and I felt pretty secluded then,” he said.  “There’s definitely a lack of community feeling.”

“I’m finding it very hard to feel connected to LMU. It’s basically just been: I do my classes, I do my assignments, I have a club meeting and that’s it,” says senior Megan McNaughton, “Just something as simple as running into friends and classmates, and waving or having conversations while walking to class on campus has had a big impact on that feeling of community for me… I can imagine that for incoming students, freshman or transfer, finding community and a connection to LMU is incredibly difficult right now.”

Despite the new challenges, the Lion Transfer Network co-presidents both remain hopeful.

“It's obviously foreign and new to everyone involved,” said Covarrubias, “but there is an element of excitement and optimism in me that knows that everything will pan out just fine as long as we remain organized.”

Agbayani shared the sentiment, reflecting on his own social challenges as a new transfer student living off-campus. 

“My advice to all transfer students is to be outgoing. Don’t be afraid to message total strangers in the hopes of starting a conversation,” he advised. “Chances are, the person you’re messaging is in a similar position as you are and would be glad to talk to a fellow LMU transfer… The answer is always no if you never ask.”

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