How TU is building a tradition of success for non-traditional students

By Kyle Hobstetter on January 17, 2018

Through the award-winning Transfer Mentor Program, TU faculty and staff help transfer students adjust to their new home

Matt Hicks sitting with John Highter
Matt Hicks, right, oversees the Transfer Mentor Program for New Student Programs. He also is part of the program as a mentor for John Highter, a junior from Baltimore majoring in mass communication.

Mention New Student Orientation at Towson University, and most people think of freshmen getting their first taste of college.    

And while TU has plenty of first-year students, another huge part of orientation is welcoming the university’s population coming to campus from another institution.

According to Matt Hicks, coordinator in the Office of New Student and Family Programs, nearly 50 percent of TU’s incoming students every year are students transferring to TU. Every time Hicks mentions that number during orientation sessions, he can’t help laughing at the surprised looks.  

“People don’t realize that TU has a very large transfer population that is an important part of our campus community,” he says.

That’s why in 2011, members of the President’s Inclusive Leadership Institute worked to develop the Transfer Mentor Program, which allows students coming to TU from another college a chance for a one-on-one mentorship with a TU faculty or staff member.

Through scheduled meetings throughout the students’ first semester, TU mentors help the newcomers adjust to campus life. Topics may include campus engagement, academic achievement or career development, though they’re also available to just listen.    

Hicks began overseeing the program at the beginning of the spring 2017 term. From the  outset he aimed to utilize mentors’ skills to help students make connections that would help them throughout their time on campus. 

He also wanted a program that allowed students who transfer to TU to be able to have their own individualized experience.

“We know our transfer students have different experiences and a large variety of unique needs,” Hicks says. “We’re not just bringing them in and assuming they’ll fit right in and have the same experience as freshmen. We’re here to help them find their own experience.” 

And mentoring non-traditional students has the clear support of the campus administration. "TIGER Way" — the Transfer, International, Graduate Enrollment Resource Initiative — is one of President Kim Schatzel's Presidential Priorities.

One of the Hicks’s biggest goals is to continue to grow the program. In 2011, there were only 15 students and mentors. As of fall 2018, the program had 150 participants, with 90 students and 45 mentors from over 40 different departments and all six of TU’s colleges.

John Highter, a junior from Baltimore majoring in mass communication with a track in advertising, changed universities when he enrolled at TU last fall. His mentor was Hicks himself.

“He’s been kind of like a big brother to me,” Highter says. “It’s like talking to one of my peers — I can be just be myself. I have a great relationship with Matt and can talk to him about anything and everything.”

Highter switched schools because he felt he’d have more opportunities at TU than at the university where he’d first enrolled. After receiving an email about the Transfer Mentor Program, he wanted to take advantage of the one-on-one mentorship.

In addition to getting involved with several campus organizations, Highter landed an internship with TU Athletics’ Office of Fan Development, where he worked with the Tigers’ football, basketball and volleyball teams.

“I love working with athletics, and Matt helped me get that opportunity,” Highter said of his internship. “He’s easy to reach out to, and he’s given me a lot of helpful advice. If I have questions or need help, I won’t hesitate to contact Matt.”  

Highter isn’t the Transfer Mentor Program’s only success story. Each year New Student Programs conducts an assessment to determine how well their students are doing.   

Stats show that students in the program, as compared to the peers they enrolled with, have a higher retention rate between the first and second semester. They also had a higher first-semester grade point average as well as a higher average credit completion rate. 

With all the positive feedback from students and mentors, Hicks is excited to see what the future holds for the Transfer Mentor Program.  

“We want to keep the program growing and to accommodate as many transfer students as possible,” he said. “We’re really excited about the possibilities.”   

The Transfer Mentor Program is open to all first-year incoming transfer students for the first semester. Students interested in learning more about the program can apply here.

Mentorship positions are open to all TU staff and faculty members. Learn more about how to apply here.

TU’s innovative approach is a winner

When Matt Hicks first came to TU in May 2017, it was his first professional position in higher education. His first major project was overseeing the Transfer Mentor Program.

Over a year later, his hard work has been recognized on both regional and national levels. 

Matt Hicks with his NODA Awards

In 2018, Hicks and the Transfer Mentor Program were awarded the regional and national “Innovative Program Awards” from NODA — The Association for Orientation, Transition and Retention in Higher Education.

“I was in total shock when we won,” Hicks laughed. “To receive national recognition that says ‘Towson University really cares about transfer students’ was amazing.” 

According to Hicks, what sets the Transfer Mentor Program apart is that not many universities have a similar program. While most focus on first-year students, TU is trying to make everyone feel welcome on campus. 

“That’s what I think is really cool about the award is that it’s not the best program, or the longest-running program, it’s an innovative program,” Hicks said. “It shows that we’re willing to do something new, and go out of our way to help our students.”

This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel’s priorities for Towson University: TIGER Way.