Heather Adams, former director of the UCLA Transfer Student Center, was honored as one of the top advocates for transfer students in the country by the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students.

Adams was one of four people named as a Bonita C. Jacobs Transfer Champion–Catalyst by the institute. The award recognizes mid-career professionals who are game-changers in the transfer field and have worked over time to make a significant impact at the institutional, regional and/or state level.

Adams, who recently became the director of UCLA College Learning Communities, is a former transfer (from Santa Monica College) and post-traditional student, returning to school at the age of 37 after pursuing other life goals. On the day Adams submitted her statement of intent to register, she visited the UCLA Transfer Student Program to volunteer in the office.

“I had worked with and created a student org for students over 25 years of age at Santa Monica College,” Adams said, “but it was the UCLA Transfer Program where it became clear to me that I had found my professional passion.”

Adams shared her thoughts on the importance of transfers and her future endeavors helping students in the transfer community.

Why do you believe it’s important to advocate for transfer students?

Advocating for transfer, post-traditional students and students from other underserved communities is absolutely a driving force for me. First and foremost, transfer and post-traditional students bring to the university rich life experience, knowledge, talent and expertise. At UCLA alone, 42% of transfers are first-generation college students and 92% of transfers come from 104 of the 115 California Community Colleges. The transfer community includes commuters, working students, parenting students, veterans, formerly incarcerated students, immigrants, students of color and so many other communities. At UCLA, roughly 40% of incoming students are transfers, making up a third of the undergraduate student body. Transfers are essential to the spirit and scope of the UCLA community and are crucial to fulfilling our mission of bringing diverse modes of thought to research and academia.

While UCLA and California are committed to the transfer pathway and are very transfer-receptive, traditionally across the country transfer students and their experiences are often excluded in the creation of policy, practice and research, particularly at the four-year university level. Transfer students work incredibly hard to have a rigorous academic career, but their unique transition, journey and adjustment navigating new environments on an accelerated timeline is often left out of the conversation. I believe through awareness regarding transfer student narratives and through advocacy for the transfer students on our campuses we can continue to develop transfer affirming culture and empower transfers success nationally.

What initiatives and projects have you participated in and what have they done for the transfer community?

  • After graduation, I was hired to run the UCLA Transfer Student Program. During my time as a student, I developed the transfer leadership coalition, worked to get a transfer student representative position in USAC with other amazing student leaders, and helped plan and develop the first Transfer Pride Week. It was at UCLA working with inspirational transfer advocates and supporters where I found professional purpose and fulfillment. These leaders urged me to go beyond what I envisioned for myself academically and I went on to get a doctorate in educational leadership and my dissertation focused on the transfer stories of women community college transfer students over the age of 25 at UCLA.
  • In order to more effectively foster transfer awareness and bridge institutional silos that create hurdles for transfer students, campus colleagues and I formed the transfer success team. We work as an advisory board and advocate for transfer receptive policy, practice and research on campus. We are currently working on developing unified transfer specific goals and learning outcomes for the university with the aim of continuing to integrate and foster greater transfer receptive practice and service campus and department wide.
  • One thing that transfers and transfer advocates had been working on for decades at UCLA was a transfers-specific center and centralized resources to tighten the support net for transfers. I was fortunate enough to be overseeing transfer resources at the Bruin Resource Center when student leadership, funding and institutional support came together to get a center built. I got to work with student leaders and campus stakeholders to design and create the vision and model for the new UCLA Transfer Student Center in Kerckhoff Hall (down to the barn doors, West Elm furniture, and white board walls!). The collaboration with students in building the transfer center and my work with the transfer success team and transfer leadership coalition are what I am most proud of in my professional journey so far.
  • Over the last year I formed the University of California Transfer Success Coalition, consisting of all the transfer-serving UC’s to give us a monthly opportunity to connect, share information and best practices, and collaborate with an official University of California Office of the President work group focused on post-transfer services. We plan to host a UC Transfer Conference in summer 2022.
  • I developed a transfer social media movement with over 31,00 active members who are current, former and new transfer students.
  • UCLA and the work being done at the transfer center and across campus was recognized in 2018 by the American Talent Initiative as an “exemplar” institution building “Transfer-Friendly Ecosystems”.
    • From the nomination letter: The UCLA Transfer Student Center model and Dr. Adams’ work is nationally acknowledged and often used as a framework for schools looking to improve and buoy up their transfer resources.

How do you feel being the recipient of the Transfer Champion Catalyst Award?

The transfer community and my transfer identity means the world to me. I love advocating for this community, so this is truly the greatest professional tribute I have ever received. In addition, the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students and the NISTS Conference are my favorite higher education organization and conference and I plan to remain actively involved in NISTS for years to come. NISTS is an incredible organization dedicated to inspiring professionals and institutions to develop holistic and inclusive transfer student experiences and supports. I am in awe of all the transfer leaders across the country who advocate and work to build inclusive practices on their campus. So being named a catalyst amongst this group is truly and enormous honor.

I also couldn’t be more proud of and impressed with the transfer community at UCLA as well as the robust transfer supportive system at UCLA. There are obviously still areas in which we can continue to grow, but I feel lucky to be part of a system committed to celebrating and supporting the transfer experience.

How will the award and conference help you in future endeavors?

In my new position as director of College Learning Communities I am excited to explore how it will serve transfer, post-traditional and commuter students at UCLA in the future. And I have the opportunity to teach a transfer-specific course on how to navigate a research university as transfers. 

On a different note, I have really enjoyed connecting with colleagues all over the globe through an online community called Transfer Nation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Transfer Nation is a community for educators who work with and advocate for transfer and post-traditional students to share information, support each other and collaborate to empower transfer pride nationwide. We get together in person and mentor and guide one another to continue to develop inclusive culture on all our reactive campuses. It is a great passion of mine and this award just inspires me to continue the work every day!