Lost in transition

    When Lydia Greer transferred to Portland State from the Pacific Northwest College of Art, she expected an intimate atmosphere.     ”When I came here, I assumed that the art department would have meetings and that I’d be introduced to the department’s director,” said Greer, a printmaking and drawing major.

    When Lydia Greer transferred to Portland State from the Pacific Northwest College of Art, she expected an intimate atmosphere.

    ”When I came here, I assumed that the art department would have meetings and that I’d be introduced to the department’s director,” said Greer, a printmaking and drawing major. “Instead, I had to fight to get an advisor.”

    Greer found an advisor who helped her understand the university and get her on her feet. The Department of Art advisor even helped Greer understand the University Studies system and the classes Greer needed to take to fill her requirements.

    But not all Portland State transfer students have been as lucky as Lydia Greer.

    As the University Studies program is currently organized, some transfer students may be able to skip half of the program – the freshman and sophomore inquiries – because of the amount of credit hours they transfer in with. If a student transfers to PSU with more than 90 credit hours, they are not required to take any of the inquiry classes, moving directly on to Junior Clusters.

    Sukhwant Jhaj, the interim director of University Studies, said placing students in the middle of the university’s general education program may leave transfer students without an understanding of the program.

    Cynthia Brown, the chair for a year-long committee that evaluated University Studies, said inserting students into the program based on how many credit hours they have may leave some students without necessary general education requirements such as writing, mathematics or science.

“There might be broad general education and introduction requirements that they might not have,” Brown said.

    Jhaj is aiming to connect students like Greer through better planning. He hopes to develop a two-year plan for the University Studies program, which he said he thinks will bring more success for transfer students.

    ”We really need to help our students plan,” Jhaj said. “Students live complex lives. Most are working. They need to be able to juggle their work schedules with their lives at PSU.”

    Anna Tanasse, a sophomore transfer student into the art department, said she has always been too intimidated by the University Studies program even to take a class. Starting her second year at PSU, Tanasse still has all of her University Studies requirements left to fulfill.

    ”It’s a good program,” she said, “it’s just a little hard to get into.”

    Jhaj, along with a recently established University Studies Council, is working to make the transition from college to college easier for students, particularly with an effort to help students understand the University Studies program.

    The council will examine the effectiveness of the University Studies program over the next year, based on information gathered from sources such as the Office of Institutional Research and Planning and an ad hoc committee that spent a year studying University Studies.

    The council will focus time on transfer students by developing solutions, such as adding more transfer transition classes or providing additional advising about what University Studies is, which might help connect students to the Portland State and University Studies program.

    Roy Koch, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said increasing the transfer transition courses could help students become more acquainted with University Studies, and some kind of introduction to the program in the Junior Cluster courses could make transfer students understand it more as a whole. Koch said nothing has yet been decided on what to do about connecting transfer students to the university and the program, but the administration recognizes the separation that many transfer students feel, and is working to evaluate and resolve that separation.

    ”We’re just getting started on some of these issues,” Koch said. “We’re trying to help the [transfer] students benefit from the University Studies curriculum in the way that freshmen and sophomores do.”

    Jhaj said University Studies works best for those who go through the program by the original design — from Freshman Inquiry, to Sophomore Inquiry, to Junior Clusters and ending with Senior Capstones. Jhaj said that it is difficult for students to feel as connected to Portland State and to understand the University Studies program when entering the program in the middle, like most transfer students do.

    ”University Studies needs to do a better job of helping transfer students understand the university studies program,” Jhaj said.

    Michael Flower, an assistant professor for University Honors and an University Studies Council member, said he thinks reviewing the program and evaluating it in terms of transfer student’s needs will be important for helping students connect to the university and the program.

    ”The huge transfer population that we have here needs to be accommodated in some way,” Flower said. “They need a place to gather together.”

    Greer said that if the university would have required some kind of University Studies orientation, she might have felt more involved in the program and the university right away. Instead, she said it took until someone invited her to join the Drawing Club for her to feel involved.

    Jhaj said increasing the number of Transfer Transition courses – a course offered only one to two times each term to help transfer students get acquainted with the university – might help transfer students, but it is hard to make the students take the course.

    He said that whatever the committee advises to help transfer students transition into the university will be helpful.

    ”Even if the scope looks small, the results would have quite a large influence on the program,” Jhaj said.

    Flower said the council will first look for solutions that make intellectual sense and then solutions that are structurally possible. The council will meet on alternating weeks starting Monday, Oct. 7.