Initial Publication Date: June 14, 2016

GP-Extra: Supporting the Academic and Social Integration of Incoming Transfer Students

Kimberly Hannula (PI)
Gary Gianniny (Co-PI)

Short Description

At Fort Lewis College, one-third of the 120 geology majors are transfer students, many of whom are first-generation college students, Native Americans (7 in 2015), Hispanic (5 in 2015), and/or veterans ( 2 in 2015). These transfer students find it challenging to complete their degree in the expected two years after they complete their Associates degree. The overall goal of this project is to make it possible for transfer students to speed their time to graduation and enter the workforce in a more timely manner by supporting both their academic and social transition to a 4-year college.


At Fort Lewis College (FLC), the number of new transfer students majoring in Geology has grown from 9 in 2010 to 15 in 2014. The current population of 40 transfer students came to FLC from 29 different institutions, including San Juan College (5 current students, 50 miles away in Farmington, NM), community colleges on the Front Range (7 current students from 3 institutions, 6 or more hours away), tribal colleges (2 current students from 2 different institutions), and 2- and 4-year colleges and universities in other states. The largest group of incoming transfer students, from San Juan College, typically consists of 1 or 2 new students each year. Fort Lewis College was established as part of a treaty agreement that allows Native American students from any state in the US to receive a tuition waiver which is reimbursed by the State of Colorado. During the past five years, the proportion of Native American students at FLC has increased from 20% to 30%. Students majoring in Geology at FLC are somewhat less diverse than the institution as a whole. The number of Native American geology majors in Fall 2014 was 16 of 120 total majors (13%). For comparison, in the Fall of 2014 there were 16 Hispanic geology majors (13%) and 78 White geology majors (65%).

At Fort Lewis College, incoming transfer students majoring in geology often report to advisors and faculty that they feel isolated during their first semester, they find initial advising from the Admissions Office confusing, and they find their first coursework at FLC (Mineralogy, Structural Geology, Sedimentology/Stratigraphy, and/or Geomorphology) challenging. In these geology courses, professors may refer to local stratigraphy, structural, or geomorphic examples that are unfamiliar to the transfer students. Historically, transfer students at FLC eventually receive their B.S. degrees but most take longer than the expected two years to graduate.

At Fort Lewis College, all geology majors must take GEOL 202, a 2-credit field course that is a prerequisite for research courses and summer field camp. Transfer students usually don't have access to a field course at their original institutions. In the past, transfer students took GEOL 202 in their first semester at FLC while also taking 3 lab courses (Mineralogy, GIS, and Geomorphology), which was a challenging load, especially as many transfer students are also juggling jobs and families while they are adjusting to their new school and new surroundings.

To help address these challenges, FLC began offering a section of GEOL 202 in the summer as a bridge program for transfer students. The course is open to both continuing FLC students and to incoming transfer students. However, financial and advising barriers have made it difficult for many transfer students to take advantage of the course. To improve the prerequisite alignment and help the academic and social integration of incoming transfer students, this project offers GEOL 202 as an August intersession 3-week course before the beginning of the fall semester for a cohort of 9-15 students. The cohort potentially will consist of approximately 23% Native American, 11% Hispanic, and 26% women students. In addition to the standard field course curriculum, the students will also participate in co-curricular activities.


The overarching goals of this project are to:

  1. Improve transfer students' academic preparation, especially their knowledge of regional geology;
  2. Reduce transfer students' sense of social isolation;
  3. Help transfer students navigate the transition to FLC; and
  4. Shorten the time to degree completion for transfer students majoring in geology at FLC.


New bridge program: An augmented August intersession section of GEOL 202 (Goals 1-4)

The 3-week August intersession course includes the standard GEOL 202 field course curriculum offered during the first two weeks, with an additional five days for addressing topics directly related to transfer such as advising, college navigation, and integration into the department, as well as field trips with faculty and other campus and community orientation activities. The course will be held prior to transfer students' first fall semester. It will introduce transfer students to regional geology while simultaneously reducing the credit load they need to take during their first semester. This course has the added social benefit of establishing a cohort of students with a shared experience before their first fall semester at Fort Lewis College.

Co-curricular activities during the field course (Goals 1-2)

  • Field trips with faculty
    • Faculty will lead 1-day field trips for the cohort that will allow new students to get to know faculty members who may potentially become the students' academic advisor and/or senior thesis advisor.
    • The field trips will introduce new students to the local geology and reinforce field skills first learned in previous introductory courses.
  • Orientation to Fort Lewis College and Durango
    • We hold a welcome picnic for students and their families, along with representatives from FLC support services such as the: campus TRiO program (STEM3 and Program for Academic Advancement, both of which provide tutoring, financial aid advice, and other support to first generation or low income students and to students with disabilities); Native American Center, El Centro, Advising Center, Financial Aid Office, and Career Services.
    • We introduce students to Durango and FLC services including: K-12 school registration (for students who have children), Campbell Center (a campus daycare service); and public transportation, available housing, and library services. Students have meetings with representatives from school organizations such as Geology Club, Women in Science, American Indian Science and Engineering Society, Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Sciences, as well as meeting with disability services and career services/internship coordinators for the sciences.

Follow-on activities: Student support throughout their academic career at Fort Lewis College (Goals 2-3)

Project activities will continue throughout the following academic years to continue aiding the transfer student cohort through social and academic integration in the the Fort Lewis College community. The following are examples of these support activities which follow the completion of GEOL 202 in August.

Building student social and academic skills and networks (Goals 1-4)

  • To help students improve their knowledge of degree requirements and to shorten time to degree completion, the cohort will receive information from FLC advisors about the use of 'u.achieve' online degree audit and planning software.
  • A rising senior will be hired to be a tutor and mentor for the cohort. This student will be chosen from members of the previous year's cohort. The student will serve as a TA for the August GEOL 202 course; as a tutor for the fall semester Mineralogy, Structural Geology, Stratigraphy and Sedimentology, and/or Geomorphology courses; and will help integrate the cohort socially into the department.

Addressing student financial concerns (Goals 3-4)

  • Because financial aid traditionally does not begin until September, members of the cohort will be given a stipend for housing and cost of living expenses during the August intersession.
  • This project will provide $800 per student to cover some of the costs of research, housing, and supplies for senior thesis expenses that are currently not covered by FLC internal grant funds.
  • Many students of the cohort will qualify for participation in the Geological Society of America's 'On to the Future' program and the project will provide funding for travel, housing, and registration costs.

Professional socialization (Goals 3-4)

  • The cohort will have opportunities to interact with professional geologists both during GEOL 202 and throughout the following year. Students are given opportunities for social gatherings with FLC alums who work in local environmental and mining industries.
  • At the end of the August field course, the cohort will attend the Four Corners Geological Society (FCGS) annual picnic. FCGS is affiliated with the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and has many members who work in the oil and gas industry. Fort Lewis faculty will introduce the students to local industry professionals, current FLC students, and FLC alums.
  • FCGS sponsors monthly talks and social gatherings that alternate between Fort Lewis College and Farmington, NM. Students can attend the talks and dinner meetings for free. The cohort will be encouraged to carpool with faculty and students to attend the Farmington meetings.
  • The cohort will receive travel funding to attend the GSA Annual Meeting.

Theory of Change

Our hypothesis is that participation in the new GEOL 202 August intersession will both strengthen transfer students' academic preparation and help integrate them into the FLC Geology department socially, thus improving transfer students' academic success in subsequent geology courses, increasing the likelihood of transfer students completing a Bachelor's degree in geology, decreasing their average time to completion of the degree program, and decreasing their feelings of social isolation in their first semester post-transfer.

Because Colorado has begun emphasizing college completion, the academic administration is supportive of activities that are shown to improve the retention and graduation of students. If this program is successful in reducing the time to graduation and increasing the retention of transfer students, the FLC administration will consider changing policies to make it easier for a program such as this to continue. The Student Affairs Office, which organizes New Student Orientation, will use the results of the focus groups to plan future transfer student orientation.

Instruments and Measures of Success

Formative assessment will be conducted each spring semester and will be used to improve the program for the next summer's cohort. We will gather evidence that answers the following questions:

  • Are students participating in activities?
  • Are the activities helpful from the student perspective?
  • Do the activities reduce challenges faced by transfer students?
  • Are the cohorts succeeding academically?

The summative evaluation plan includes answering questions such as:

  • Does a summer field class for incoming transfer students improve academic and misalignment challenges?
  • Do the project activities improve challenges related to college navigation, financial concerns, advising, mentoring, academic integration, professional socialization, motivation, and goals?
  • Does a summer bridge field course improve persistence (year to year)?
  • Does a summer bridge field course reduce the time to graduation?

Gathering evidence for success will involve a mixed-methods approach, and will consist of:

  • Tracking participation of students in the project activities using software such as Accutrack and Pyramid Analytics
  • Interviewing an annual focus group with that year's cohort
  • A version of the survey given to transfer students as part of the AGI annual graduate survey
  • Academic assessment, including the Geologic Block Cross-sectioning Test (GBCT), scores on the field practical exam at the end of the field course, and assessment of problem-solving in senior thesis papers using AAC&U's LEAP rubrics
  • Tracking student success using data including grades during the cohort's first fall semester, fall-to-fall persistence, and examining time to graduation rates.
  • Tracking alumni after graduation using tools such as:
    • the Cap & Gown Survey, which asks students what their plans are after they leave Fort Lewis;
    • the National Clearinghouse to see which graduates are enrolling in graduate school or pursuing other degrees; and
    • LinkedIn, which is our most accurate source of updated alumni information.

This work is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation GeoPaths program, grant #1540545.