Did you know that transfer students make up one-third of UCLA’s current undergraduates? Or that UCLA is naming a complex of campus sports and recreation facilities in honor of Jackie Robinson, one of UCLA’s most famous transfer students? Or that UC President Janet Napolitano is simplifying the process for community college students to transfer to UC campuses?
UCLA’s transfer students have a whole lot to be excited about and proud of.
For Heather Adams, UCLA’s new transfer student program coordinator who came to the university in 2012 as a transfer student, instilling pride in transfer students is something she lives and breathes, both professionally and personally.
She, along with UCLA’s Transfer Student Program director Melissa Sinclair, was hired at the Bruin Resource Center last July, specifically to support transfer students, oversee programs serving them, and build campuswide communication and partnerships among units that also support them. Those include the Academic Advancement Program, the Center for Community College Partnerships at UCLA, First Year Experience, Residential Life, the Community Programs Office, the Undergraduate Students Association Council office representing transfer students. Helping to staff the Transfer Student Programs office are three student interns, two of whom are transfer students.
Adams and her team are currently helping to plan UCLA’s third annual Bruin Transfer Pride Week, a five-day series of events, which run Jan. 19-24. The planned activities, workshops, panel discussions and community service projects will bring transfer students together socially and academically. The planning committee worked closely with three transfer students, including the USAC student representative. In addition, the UCLA Transfer Student Coalition, which represents all registered transfer student groups, was invited to provide input.
Her goal, and the goal of her office, is to help plug transfer students quickly into UCLA so that they can make the most of their Bruin experience.
"Because transfer students only have about two years between the time they get to UCLA as juniors and then graduate as seniors, they need to hit the ground running," said Adams, who graduated last June with a B.A. in psychology.
This means learning how to navigate the multilayered campus environment and taking advantage of the plethora of student organizations, internships, leadership and research opportunities, and study abroad programs. "They have about a month to get their bearings and, by the second quarter, they’re already thinking about graduate school," Adams said. "The quicker we can get them plugged into this campus, the more successful they’ll be."
Ani Khash, a UCLA junior who transferred to UCLA from Glendale Community College last fall, said Adams has been instrumental in helping her get a jump on all this.
"Heather helped chart the course for what I would be doing at UCLA," said Khash, a philosophy and English major, who admitted to being "incredibly clueless" and "very, very, very lost" when she came.
Khash said that Adams, whom she described as kind, energetic, thoughtful, prompt and knowledgeable, encouraged her to meet with professors and get involved in research. As a result, Khash has been accepted into the Undergraduate Research Fellows Program. ""If it hadn’t been for Heather’s encouragement and clarity, this wouldn’t have happened," Khash said.
Finding one’s true calling is something that Adams has spent the past 30 years working on. The day after graduating from high school she moved from Blue Hill, a tiny lobster-fishing village in Maine, to Los Angeles to kick-start an acting career.
"All I wanted to do was be an actor," said Adams, who became enthralled with the idea after seeing Royal Shakespeare Company productions of "Julius Caesar" and "Merchant of Venice" at Stratford-Upon-Avon outside London when she was 11. "It never occurred to me that I could fail."
With $200 in her pocket and a bicycle for transportation, Adams landed a job at a West Hollywood bookstore, signed with an agent and met the man who would become her husband — all in her first two days in L.A.
For the next 20 years, Adams, using her maiden name Heather Stephens, appeared on "The Drew Carey Show," "Baywatch," "Beverly Hills 90210," "Desperate Housewives," "NCIS" and "House M.D.," among others. For a full season, she starred in the WB comedy series "Men, Women and Dogs;" she also appeared in a dozen episodes of the crime-drama series "The Forgotten" with Christian Slater.
But something was missing.
"I just got so bored," said Adams. "I felt like I was atrophying as a person. I worked, but I didn’t work enough to feel plugged into the world outside of entertainment. I just didn’t feel fulfilled."
She decided to head back to school to study psychology at Santa Monica College (SMC) in 1996 as a way to fill in the time between auditions and waiting on set. Although she always wanted a college degree, her high school academic record was less than stellar.
"I always felt sort of academically on the outside."
Community college, she found, was also a struggle. Her grades and the amount of work she was putting in didn’t align, she felt. When she discussed this with her husband and his parents, who are both educators, they recommended she reach out to a professional.
In 2007, she finally had her answer: She had dyslexia, coupled with other cognitive processing issues.
"It was an ‘aha’ moment," she said. "I realized I could now have the rigorous academic career I wanted. I could finally tell myself, ‘I am smart.’ I just had to find the best way for me to learn … To find this out at 36 was incredible."
She began to immerse herself in campus life and work with nontraditional students, learners who, like Adams, were older and had a different set of priorities.
"You can feel invisible," said Adams. "You’re around a lot of young people, and you’re juggling a million different balls — a job, children, bills, a relationship and other responsibilities. It felt like there needed to be some sort of support system in place at SMC … to remind them they’re not alone."
So she helped establish Santa Monica College’s first network of nontraditional students. When she transferred to UCLA, she kept a group of SMC transfer students intact to network. She also volunteered countless hours at the Bruin Resource Center, helping to manage its Facebook page for transfer students and ensure they felt supported. The site now encompasses 7,400 people, a 600 percent increase.
Transfer student participation in UCLA’s annual Volunteer Day also hit an all-time high last fall, with more than 450 transfer students turning out for a day of community service. In addition, close to 700 people attended UCLA’s welcome reception for transfer students last fall, up from only 150 in 2013.
"I am happier every single day driving to this job than I ever was driving to a set. It’s where I belong. It feels like this is my fit. I couldn’t always sell myself [as an actor], but I can sell higher education. I believe in it."