Gold Standard of Transfer Programs

by Paula Polglase


Assisting New Transfer Student (ANTS) teamSenior Andrew Martin from Dayton, Va. started his college career at Blue Ridge Community College and remembers his reluctance to attend James Madison University's Transfer Summer Springboard, a one-day summer orientation program.   "I knew I didn't want to go to JMU, but it was my best option," he said.  At TSS, Martin was 'blown-away' by the energy of the student leaders and the commitment of the university to help with his transition.  "Needless to say, my opinion of JMU drastically changed," said Martin.

"We heard from Dr. Rose, deans of colleges, the director of orientation," said Martin.  "I had no idea it would be that huge and I was really pleasantly surprised."  Martin was so impressed that he applied to be on the Assisting New Transfer student team in 2011 and was named one of two Student Orientation Coordinators for 2012.  In his roles as an ANT and as the SOC he helps coordinate and facilitate the Transfer Summer Springboard.

This spring the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators recognized the TSS program as the Grand Gold Award winner for 2012 for its two-year assessment project to test the outcomes and effectiveness of the program.  JMU's award highlights the collaborative efforts of the Orientation Office and their colleagues in the Center for Assessment and Research Studies. "This award is a testament of our program's effectiveness in orienting new transfer students to JMU," said Director of Orientation Tisha McCoy-Ntiamoah.

Transferring In

Transfer Summer Springboard brings JMU's 700 transfer students to campus in early June.  Recognizing that the transfer population was growing, JMU created a program similar to the first-year orientation program.  Sarah Sunde, associate director of orientation said, "We recognize that though these students have been to college they still need to make a connection to JMU. They need to be able to jump in right away academically but they also need to acclimate socially."

The TSS is designed so that transfer students know they are important to the institution.  The ANT team is made up of upperclass students who transferred to JMU.  The ANTs understand the transfer experience because they have been there.  "Having a peer student who has been through the transfer experience and can really empathize makes a big difference," said Sunde.

Martin said the transfer students attending TSS think "I've already been to college, I'll just sign up for classes and that's it."  However, what JMU offers is an exciting day filled with information and a way to connect to JMU.  "We really strive to make TSS exciting," said Martin.  "It's a big welcome party."

Assessment is the Key to Change

The TSS objectives are to increase transfer students’ knowledge of academic requirements and available resources as well as assisting with social acclimation and community building.  Although the Orientation Office handles the logistics, they work with many stakeholders on campus to present the information to students during TSS.

CARS Associate Assessment Specialist Sara Finney said it took about a year to gather all of the stakeholders: orientation, academic deans, academic advisors, the registrar's office and many others to create the TSS outcomes.  The next step was developing the programming that accomplishes the outcomes.  Finally, the assessment office determined how to gather data and assess whether the students learned the intended outcomes.

Transfer students take a pre-test as part of their One Book and a post-test at the end of TSS.  "What we are looking for is some positive growth," said Finney.  If growth on a certain outcome is lower than expected the assessment team attributes that to several reasons: the measure is faulty, the program they created isn't the right program or the program is good, but it's not being implemented correctly. 

"This last piece is what the assessment team has spent the last two years digging into," said Finney.  Called an Implementation Fidelity Check, it allows them to determine if the program that is on paper is the program the students actually received.

Assessment team member Jerusha Gerstner, a CARS graduate assistant, said the team spent many hours attending TSS taking on the role of the transfer student.  Their goal was to assess the programs being presented for adherence, quality of information, exposure time to the information and responsiveness, or how responsive the students were to the material.

"In the past when we'd see a poor assessment result we'd say the whole program wasn't working," said team member Matthew Swain, an assessment graduate assistant assigned to the Orientation Office.  "Now, using Implementation Fidelity Data, we can see where the program is drifting from how it was planned."  Swain said the value in this type of data is that it details exactly what needs to be changed for the next year.

JMU focuses on closing the assessment loop.  Finney said it is not enough to create outcomes, programming and assessment measures; departments have to use the assessment data to make informed decisions about program changes.

For example, transfer students attending TSS in 2010 were not acquiring the resource knowledge that the program had set out to impart.  Specifically, transfer students did not learn that a dining plan needed to be purchased at Card Services.  The Orientation and Assessment teams increased the frequency of this information in 2011 and included a resource worksheet for students to better engage them throughout the day. 

The team also notes the changes Associate Registrar Kurt Johnson made to his presentation as a result of the Implementation Fidelity Data.  In years past Johnson covered all of the information but the assessment team found the responsiveness of the students, and thus their knowledge growth in this area, to be lacking.  Johnson took the feedback and, covering the same information, made the presentation engaging by verbally quizzing the students throughout his time with them.  Students responded positively and showed more positive growth on their post-test than in past years.

Awarded Grand Gold

The team submitted their work on the TSS for a NASPA award and were thrilled to learn that their assessment project had won a 2012 NASPA Gold Excellence Award in the "Enrollment Management, Financial Aid, Orientation, Parents, First-Year, Other-year and related" category. 

The Gold award winners from each of ten categories were then judged to determine NASPA's Grand Gold Award winner.  "I am thrilled that our staff and their unique collaboration with CARS has been recognized at a national level as the Grand Gold Award winner," said McCoy-Ntiamoah.  "We worked diligently in the last two years to strengthen and enhance our assessment plans."

Members of the Orientation Office and CARS traveled to Phoenix, Az. in March to receive the award at the national convention. 

"The NASPA Grand Gold Award is a validation that JMU has a really strong transfer orientation program," said Sunde.  "But it's also a validation of transfer students. If I'm a transfer student coming in and saw that JMU won this award I'd think 'I'm in the right place, because JMU obviously really cares about their transfer students.'"

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May 31, 2012
By Paula Polglase, JMU Public Affairs 

Related Link:

JMU Transfer Orientation:

Published: Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016

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