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Transfer students find their home at Carolina

Jump Start program eases transition, provides pathway to meet individual needs

On the surface, there are a lot of similarities between Liz Iglesias and Katlin Pugh’s transfer stories.

Iglesias, a pre-med biology major and media arts minor who transferred from the University of Chicago at the end of her sophomore year, jumped into the University of South Carolina with ambitions of becoming a pediatric neurologist. Pugh, a sixth-year pre-med student majoring in biology, history, neuroscience and chemical engineering, is at USC Columbia after attending USC Aiken and Augusta University. She is on the path to become a pediatric neurosurgeon.

Eager to get ahead on classes and settle into their new institution before the fall, both registered for summer classes. They also got connected with Jump Start, a program designed by Graduation and Retention Network, also known as GARNET, to improve retention rates and academic outcomes for transfer students while helping them graduate on time. Both students headed into the fall feeling better equipped to take on the university.

Liz Iglesias on the Horseshoe
Liz Iglesias is a biology major who transferred from the University of Chicago.

Jump Start is a common thread for many transfer students, but Iglesias’ and Pugh’s paths diverge beyond that point. Though they may share a passion for pediatrics and have similar career aspirations, the needs and experiences of transfer students are as individual as the students themselves, and Jump Start aims to address them all.

Iglesias, whose previous school was the size of her class at USC, was intimidated by the sheer number of students at a state school and the prospect of much larger classes. She was also accustomed to the quarter rather than semester system, and she’d never used Blackboard. There were logistical hurdles to climb, but summer was a good time to start tackling them.

“I got a taste of some of the different teaching styles and what the rigor looks like,” says Iglesias. “Taking classes in the summer, I got a pretty good gauge of what the professors expected of students. It gave me a chance to hit the ground running when I got to USC.”

Jump Start also introduced Iglesias to university staff over the summer, connecting her with the Office of Undergraduate Research and creating opportunities to present at Discover USC and join the Twiss Lab. In the lab, she is conducting neuroscience research on post-injury nervous system recovery. Despite losing credits when she transferred from Chicago, where Iglesias was majoring in neuroscience, she’s remained active in her field and can pursue her goals while participating in extracurriculars such as Phi Delta Epsilon pre-medical fraternity and the USC sailing team.

Katlin Pugh with a friend.
Katlin Pugh (right) enjoys a fall semi-formal at the Melting Pot.

Pugh’s concerns coming into USC looked different. Arriving in Columbia from Augusta University at the age of 23, she’d aged out of dorm living, and her friends who’d attended USC had already graduated. When she learned about the Jump Start program, she was eager for the chance to ease into the social life of the university and be paired with one of the program’s ambassadors -- students assigned to Jump Start participants to familiarize them with campus and the Gamecock community.

“I thought [Jump Start] was a good way to meet people, so I joined. That's how I met my ambassador, Jordan Marcengill. She showed me around and told me about different things that USC had to offer that I might enjoy,” says Pugh. “I didn't know where to eat, fun stuff to do, who to talk to for different things besides my advisor. It really helped in acclimating me to the community and USC environment.”

With the stress of navigating the university for the first time managed before the rest of the campus community returned to classes, Pugh was free to flourish in her academics, dive into extracurriculars and get to know her professors. She even applied to serve as a Jump Start ambassador so she can provide another transfer student with the sort of opportunities her ambassador offered her.

Seeing students like Iglesias and Pugh thrive is the mission of programs such as GARNET. "We're aiming at that sense of belonging and academic success,” says Amanda Therrell, assistant director of GARNET and the driving force behind initiatives such as Jump Start. The program is accomplishing its goal: Jump Start students have a 92% retention rate and an average GPA of 3.5.

Most importantly for Iglesias and Pugh, they’re not only succeeding academically but are flourishing at USC. “There was a lot that went into the decision to transfer, but at USC, I’m a lot happier and healthier,” says Iglesias. “Every school is a different fit, but I love USC and I’m definitely in a place where I can grow."