Thursday, June 21, 2012

Transfer success story: From a 2.0 HS GPA to American University

Jose Aristimuno recently graduated with a Bachelors degree in Political Science, Cum Laude, from American University

In the Fall of 2007, he enrolled at Broward Community College in South Florida.

When he graduated high school, he had a 2.0 GPA. 

Jose's story is packed with some of the best community college transfer advice I could ever recommend. Everything below is in his own words:  

What led you to community college?
I moved to the United States with my family from Caracas, Venezuela when I was 10 years old. At the time, I barely knew a word of English. Throughout my childhood education, I experienced a long period of culture shock, and struggled with my personal identity and race, as I tried to figure out whether I was Latino, or American. I struggled to find my place in middle and high school, and always found it confusing whether I should be hanging out with the Latinos, or the Caucasian-Americans. And many times, I felt as I didn’t completely fit in with either group.

Thus, during my high school years I became a rebel. I skipped school regularly, didn’t pay attention in class, and was both rude and disrespectful to teachers. I got in trouble often, and was suspended various times. Although my family always supported me to strive academically, as a teenager, I refused to listen to their advice.

To this day, I’m not quite sure why is it that I acted the way I did in high school. I think it might have been the absence of my father who, though I saw yearly and has always been there for me, lives in Venezuela. My mother was also diagnosed with breast cancer during my years in middle school, and once again during high school.

I graduated high school with very poor grades and barely graduated. As a result I didn’t aspire to go onto college - I didn't even attend my high school graduation.

As the summer began, I worked long hours as a waiter to sustain myself. That same summer, I was encouraged by family and friends to continue my education at a community college since I did not have the grades to be accepted at most 4-year colleges. I began my first semester of college and took two classes the first semester.

As I began my life as a student at Broward Community College, I was determined to try my best. Despite getting a “D” in my first college writing class, I stayed motivated and promised myself not give up.

In my second semester of college, I decided to take three classes. That semester I was able to pull all A’s and B’s, and it was during moment, that feeling of getting good grades, that I  began to realize my potential.

In high school I attended a small private school and was one of very small minority population. In community college, there was such diversity; the majority of the students were African-American or Hispanic. I loved and felt comfortable in that diverse environment, and felt like for the first time I was comfortable and able enough to express my myself and my opinions.

I got involved with Phi Theta Kappa and became Vice-President of our local chapter. A year later, I was selected to be a part of All-USA Academic Team, which recognizes outstanding students all around the United States.
Phi Theta Kappa allowed me to discover the many scholarships, academic programs, volunteer opportunities, and helped me in motivating me to transfer to a 4-year institution.
Jose with PTK Executive Director, Dr. Rod Risley
How did you choose your major and what influenced your transfer decision? 
Choosing a major is certainly not easy. I began as a marketing major, but  quickly learned it wasn’t for me. I spent hours analyzing and researching various options. As the economic meltdown was starting to take a toll on all of us, and I felt a need and desire to better understand these problems and how to contribute to their solutions. I became very politically active in 2008, and felt so engaged in the political conversation, that I decided to change my major to Political Science and transfer to American University in the Fall of 2010.

What were your biggest obstacles in adjusting to your transfer institution?
At first my obstacle was fear; I was afraid that the magnitude of the workload and academic demands would be too great for me to fulfill. As community college student, we are sometimes afraid that we won’t be able to keep up in a 4-year institution. However, we are so mistaken as one of the main roles of community college is to prepare us for 4-year universities, and many of them do this very well. So I deeply believe that if you work hard in community college and take advantage of all the opportunities that they  offer, such as clubs,  honors societies, professors, and advisors, community college students will be very well prepared to transfer and be successful at any 4-year institution.

My second obstacle, or at least what seemed like an obstacle at the time, was being able to successfully integrate and adapt to a new school, such as making new friends, joining a variety of clubs and organizations, and making sure that you’re taking advantage of all the great opportunities your institution has to offer.

What helped you the most in getting adjusted at your transfer institution?
As soon as I got to American University, I made commitment to join a variety of clubs that I felt an interest in. In addition, I took advantage of the school’s Transfer Student Network, which allowed me to talk to incoming transfer students before arriving to the university. Although this network isn't available at every university, I advice students to try to get in contact with some of the students who will be transferring as well, as you will have something in common, and it will allow you to live the transfer experience with others who are going through the same thing.

What helped you make friends at your transfer institution?
What helped me to make friends was to first get out of my comfort zone, and push myself to be social and interactive with others. At American University, where classes are very engaging, and all the students are eager to participate, it motivated me to do the same. 

In addition to getting out of my comfort zone, I joined a variety of student organizations that helped me meet a variety of students that share some of my same interests and values. For example, I became the Political Editor for the School’s Student Magazine, AmWord. I also became the Advocacy Director for the Latin American Student Organization, was a member of the College Democrats, and attended Harvard University for an Economics & Politics of Russia and China summer class. I also did a congressional internship. Without a doubt, being active in these organizations allowed me to meet a variety of people who share my same interests.

What advice can you share that you wish someone would have shared with you before you transferred from community college to a university?
Don’t panic, and be confident! Confidence can really go a long way. Be yourself and become active in your new campus as soon as possible. Joining organizations and clubs that are important to you will allow you to meet people that share your same interests. In turn, this will allow you make new friends, and have a support group within your college community.

What advice can you share with readers based on what worked well for you in transferring? 
Do your research, and don’t rush it. Transferring to a 4-year university is an important and sometimes, costly investment. Therefore, make sure you look at a variety of universities that focus on your career field, and are in-line with your personality. A couple of questions to consider:

Would like to be a part of a big campus, or something more intimate?

Would you like your campus to be in a big city or a small town?

Will you be dorming, living nearby, or staying at home?

Be open to new ideas, get out of your comfort zone, and don’t give up.
At times, the transferring process can seem long and tedious, but it is task that is well worth it.
Take your time to look around at all your different options. Looks at universities that have programs that play to your interests and major. In addition, make sure you look at all your scholarship options. There are a good number of scholarships out there, it’s just a matter of taking the time to find them.
Jose's graduation from American University May 2012
Jose currently works with the public relations firm, Dewey Square Group, and will be joining the Obama Campaign as Fellow this June 2012. 

In addition to working these two jobs he will be working on a certification paralegal program at Georgetown University. At the same time, I will be preparing for the Law School Admissions Test, in hopes of attending Law School in the Fall of 2013.

 And if you have a story to inspire readers (and I bet you do) visit to share it with me. 

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