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When educators discuss transfer pathways from two-year to four-year colleges, they tend to discuss broad, important topics such as aligning credits and mapping curricula. Something often is missing: the stories of the diverse life experiences of individual students.

But at a recent afternoon event in early May, transfer students were front and center as they presented e-portfolios -- personal websites they had worked on for months to help articulate their unique narrative. The goal: to tell their stories in a professional way as they prepare to move from a two- to four-year campus in Virginia. They spoke by Zoom to professors, advisers, employers and nonprofit leaders. They wove together their classroom lessons and what they have gained from Pathway Program events with their experiences as first-generation college students, students of color, working students and students returning to college after pursuing other goals.

The showcase is a key part of collaboration between John Tyler Community College and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College to support students interested in arts and humanities as they transfer to Virginia Commonwealth University. Known as the Mellon Pathways Program, it aims to provide a seamless transfer experience for community college students seeking to pursue a four-year degree in arts and humanities programs.

The Pathways Program helps align curriculum and credits between the two- and four-year campuses; it also offers chances to explore career and academic options, along with peer mentors, advisers with expertise in transfer and programs to introduce community college students to VCU’s resources.

Prospective transfer students in the program have the opportunity to apply to be Mellon research fellows, where they receive stipends to work on a research project with guidance from faculty. The program, now in its second year, is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

At the e-portfolio showcase, as it is called, Randi Bratton (who uses the pronouns they/them), a student at Tyler, gave a presentation about their nonlinear educational path that is leading them to the four-year college.

Bratton knows about the emphasis on STEM fields these days but said that STEM is intertwined with the arts and humanities: a solid foundation in the humanities is useful to understand what’s happening around the world and how it affects people. “If you're going to be developing technology or software, it’s not just about what you're trying to do with it, but what other people could do with what you're developing,” Bratton said in an interview.

Of the 115 students in the Pathways Program, 20 will be transferring to VCU this academic year. Bratton and other participants said the program allowed them to connect with fellow students and engage with faculty members at their future campus. Weekly events help the participants think critically, engage with faculty and learn about subjects outside of their classes, according to Bratton.

The portfolio showcase is a culminating event of the Pathways Program. The portfolios are personal websites consisting of students’ journeys, accomplishments and résumés. Transfer students bring rich and varied life experiences to campuses across the country. The Pathways Program cohort reflects this reality serving a diverse range of students from first-year, first-time students to adult students returning to school, to full-time working students and formerly incarcerated students, and more.

Bratton appreciated receiving feedback from the reviewers and mentors on how to present the website to different audiences. Creating this digital portfolio helps students translate their life experiences and focus on what they want to study, they added.

“It was a really good way to be able to reflect on yourself, your academic goals, academic history and your professional goals,” Bratton said.

Brianna Gray, an e-portfolio reviewer and head of professional learning at ACS International Schools, explained that digital portfolios can channel students’ creativity into something marketable while showing employers growth and resilience.

“I can always teach you how to use the new version of Excel or Photoshop,” Gray said in an interview. “I can't teach you how to persevere.”

Gray said the showcase allowed students to tout the “soft” skills taught in the Pathways Program -- and those are actually crucial life skills, such as researching, communicating with people and reaching multiple audiences.

Why emphasize digital portfolios? Micol Hutchison, director of the Pathways Program, says such portfolios help students identify skills, passions and goals in the first years of college. During the Pathways Program, students continue documenting these areas in their e-portfolios. Hutchison adds that “our students transfer to the university with more awareness of both their options and their achievements, and increased confidence.”

University faculty, staff and administrators who attended the showcase agreed. Students “identify and expand their cultural capital,” said showcase reviewer Scott Oates, VCU director of academic integrity and assessment.

To learn more about the transfer programs described in this edition of the "Tackling Transfer" blog, see the resources below:

Serena Truong is a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University majoring in digital journalism with a minor in political science. She hopes to continue writing, whether that be in news, digital marketing or her own novel. Her work mainly focuses on diversity in media. She works as communications assistant with the Pathways Program, highlighting the accomplishments of transfer students and promoting transfer-oriented programming. In her spare time, she likes reading books, thrifting and drinking tea.

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