Change-of-campus students start (another) new journey at Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For 60 percent of the 35,000 undergraduate students at Penn State University Park, junior year marks the beginning of a new journey.

Before completing their education at the University Park campus, many students enroll at one of Penn State’s 20 undergraduate Commonwealth Campuses where they fulfill their first two years of study, and for many students, earn an associate degree. For those who choose to change campuses, both benefits and challenges accompany their decisions.

“Being at a Commonwealth Campus benefits a lot of students,” said John Shaffer, a senior majoring in political science who spent his first two years at Penn State Mont Alto.  “Having more opportunities for direct contact with professors provides students with a lot of opportunities to learn about their field. Campus students get to know and meet a lot of their classmates and many form lasting bonds.”

For some, transitioning to the University Park campus can be challenging. Some difficulties include commuting to and from classes, navigating State College, adapting to different class environments and teaching styles and forming new friendships on a campus with more than 45,000.

“The most important tip I can offer is to be organized,” Shaffer said. “Developing a planned, concise routine will make it easier to make the adjustment.”

As president of the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments, Shaffer said that the mission of CCSG is to advocate on behalf of the Commonwealth Campuses while providing opportunities for growth and development to students.

“Currently, we are collaborating with the College of the Liberal Arts to pilot a Transition Mentorship Program,” Shaffer said. “Students who have just transitioned will be paired with student mentors in the college. The mentors will be a direct resource and provide information regarding the college, club and organization membership and acclimating to State College.”

Taking initiative

Many colleges offer student support programs dedicated to helping commonwealth students with the transitioning process.

Jenneth R. Layaou, coordinator of campus enrollment and retention in the College of Agricultural Sciences, manages the college’s change-of-campus and transition process. Layaou visited 13 campuses with advisers from the college during the past spring semester and is planning to visit another 10 campuses this fall.

“We want to build a family within our college where everyone could feel close with each other.”

— Jenneth R. Layaou,
coordinator of campus enrollment and retention
in the College of Agricultural Sciences

“We are trying to reach out to students of Commonwealth Campuses and connect with them before they come to University Park,” Layaou said. “They could meet with their advisers face-to-face and discuss any questions they might have about class scheduling, career services and research opportunities.

“Junior year is usually when students really start to think about their futures so it can be especially challenging for Commonwealth Campus students,” she said. “So we make sure that they are prepared for the transition and encourage them to get engaged in leadership experience, internship opportunities and anything that could provide them a unique package.”

Layaou also manages a student mentor program that includes 11 student mentors who have been through the same change-of-campus process and can better relate with students who are new to University Park. Students who currently attend other Penn State campuses are encouraged to take part in Ag Career Day, which will be held Oct. 21 in the Bryce Jordan Center with transportation provided by the college.

“We took half of the step, and the other half is to be completed by the students,” Layaou said, noting that she encourages students to take initiatives. “We want to build a family within our college where everyone could feel close with each other.”

Finding resources

The Office for Student Orientation and Transition Programs aims to provide a comprehensive learning experience for Penn State undergraduate students that supports a successful academic, social and personal transition to the University through collaborative partnerships.

Link UP, a program for students who are currently enrolled at one of the Commonwealth Campuses to spend a day visiting University Park and take a campus tour, is held by the office each spring semester. The next Link UP is scheduled for Saturday, March 28, 2015.

“The program is designed to provide students interested in making a change of campus with information that they need in order to make an informed decision,” said Dan Murphy, director of Student Orientation and Transition Programs. “We include information about the change-of-campus timeline, give an overview of on-campus housing options at the various campuses, have a discussion about the financial impact of deciding to make a change and hear from students who have already made the decision whether or not to change campuses.”

The day also includes an opportunity for students to meet with academic advisers in each of the colleges as well as with staff members who coordinate various support services at University Park. Representatives from the Commonwealth Campuses are also available to meet with students. Murphy said that 10 percent of the students who attend Link UP change to a campus other than University Park, from the statistics of last year.

Through the Link UP program, Commonwealth Campus students have the opportunity to spend a day at the University Park campus before making the decision to change campuses.

For students making the change to University Park, the office provides an orientation program prior to the start of the semester to introduce them to the wide array of resources and support services that are available.

“We want to make sure change-of-campus students know about the CATA Bus system, University Health Services, Career Services and opportunities to continue their involvement in a student organization or to try getting involved in something new,” Murphy said. “Even though most change-of-campus students arrive at University Park with a course schedule already in place, there is still an opportunity to meet with an academic adviser, hear from one of the deans and learn about academic support services in their college.”

For students who spend their first two years at University Park, on-campus food services can be part of their most memorable experiences as many lasting friendships throughout college are started there. Murphy said SOTP provides change-of-campus students lunch in one of the dining commons during orientation to get them familiar with the wide variety of dining options available on campus.

“A few weeks into the fall semester, we host a Slice and Scoop event,” Murphy said. “We schedule this dinner event later in the semester as an opportunity for students to reconnect with other students from their originating campus, but also as a way to help those who might not have had an opportunity to meet other change-of-campus students to do so.”

SOTP was invited to participate in the Change-of-Campus Commission with the University Park Undergraduate Association and the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments. Murphy said he is looking forward to form a partnership with the committee.

“We are eager to work with the student groups to further identify areas where we can best support students transitioning to the University Park campus,” Murphy said.

Taking the lead, creating networks

Students also are taking initiatives by forming change-of-campus student communities at University Park.

“As a change-of-campus student myself, I completely understand how frightening and overwhelming making the decision to come to University Park is,” said Emily Spicher, a senior majoring in public relations who attended Penn State Erie. Even though both of her sisters attended University Park, Spicher said she still had to figure out a lot for herself. She now serves as the change-of-campus student liaison in the Peer Mentor Program in the College of Communications and is active in other student organizations, too.

“Its my job to make the transition to University Park as smooth as possible, whether that's helping with study habits, understanding the layout of campus and the bus system or even just being a friend,” she said. “Getting involved has helped me tremendously, and I've really blossomed and grown from everything. It’s a scary experience, but its totally worth it.” Spicher suggests students look into the more than 1,000 student organizations available on campus.

Rick Kopecky, a senior studying telecommunications, spent his first two years at Penn State Altoona where he was involved with THON since his freshman year and danced in the Bryce Jordan Center during his sophomore year. He also served on the Altoona campus executive board for two years before coming to University Park. Through THON, Kopecky made many friends at University Park who shared his vision, which helped to make his transition much easier.

“I always tell others, ‘Don’t let being a commonwealth student deter you.' We all share the same Penn State pride and glory. Take advantage of the resources available and follow your dreams.”

— Rick Kopechy,
Penn State senior

After he moved to University Park in 2013, Kopecky decided to start a special interest club called “COMMON Benefiting THON,” to bring the Commonwealth Campus THON family together and support each other to work toward the same goal. Kopecky calls himself an advocate of unification.

COMMON raised $40,000 last year — its first year — and had two dancers at THON  — a good start for a new organization. Kopecky hopes to achieve a higher goal this year.

“I always tell others, ‘Don’t let being a commonwealth student deter you,’ ” he said. “We all share the same Penn State pride and glory. Take advantage of the resources available and follow your dreams.”

Other University Park change-of-campus resources include:
— College of Communications Peer Mentors
— College of Agricultural Sciences
— Eberly College of Science
— College of Engineering
— College of Information Science and Technology
— College of Health and Human Development
— New Student Orientation

Last Updated October 21, 2014