Global Community College Transfers: Building Networks for Non-Traditional Student Success in Applications

May 13, 2021 • Views -

By Guest Author Nicholas Shafer 

In March 2020, as borders were shut and COVID ran rampant, the whole world felt like it was collapsing around us. For those of us that have had the privilege of being on fellowships overseas at the time, our world was suddenly turned doubly upside down. On March 14th, I got a text from the Jordanian government saying that there were 48 hours to get out of the country. After 7 months in the country as a Boren Scholar and Fellow at the Center for Arabic Studies Abroad, it was a tough awakening landing back, months ahead of schedule, in San Francisco. 

As the pandemic continued to take its toll and the protests following the murder of George Floyd spread across the country, a group of us that have been in the privileged spaces of fellowships and foreign affairs careers acted upon our deeply-felt need to contribute back to the communities that gave us all of these opportunities. This culminated in the founding of Global Community College Transfers, an informal collective of volunteers and advocates that are pushing hard to expand access to and information about the programs that we all know and love to community college, transfer, and non-traditional student populations. 

Oftentimes, for those of us that come from underrepresented institutions, our experience of applying to competitive fellowships simply… never happens. Due to knowledge barriers, imposters syndrome, active disincentivization, and poor advising, community college students and transfers are continually underrepresented in competitive fellowships across the country. 

This underrepresentation and structural challenge are hardly surprising given the demographics of the community college population. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, in Fall 2018, the 5.6 million community college students across the country comprise around 46% of all students in higher education across the country and 41% of first-time freshmen attend community colleges. Nationally, 51% identify as non-white and a combined 23% are either U.S. citizens with foreign-born parents or are foreign-born US citizens themselves. 50% are between 20 and 29, with an additional 28% being over 30. Due to the focus on local and accessible education, community colleges provide an incredibly unique and multifaceted recruiting pool for fellowships and scholarships. By simple demographic fact, the population has the things that programs are looking for: diversity, grit, and resilience. 

The impact of COVID, which disproportionately affects working people and students without institutional support, has presented a unique challenge to community colleges, resulting in steep declines in enrollment and retention rates at community colleges across the country. This shows a clear need to connect students with more resources and networks of solidarity to help empower them. Global Community College Transfers seeks to fill that gap and connect current students to alumni, building solidarity in the greater community college and non-traditional student community and leveraging our networks to empower those coming behind us. 

While the administrators and faculty at community colleges are the backbone of this effort, we at Global Community College Transfers have an offer back to this community: the Summer Institute for the Global Education of Transfer Students. From May 20 – 22nd, we will host 10+ free workshops on topics ranging from careers in public service to scholarships for language training, study abroad, and graduate programs. We are proud to have direct participation of representatives and student voices with:

  • The US State Department, including the Pickering & Rangel Fellowships
  • The US Agency for International Development, including the Payne Fellowship
  • Peace Corps
  • Gilman Scholarship 
  • Critical Language Scholarship
  • Boren Scholarship
  • Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange 
  • Cultural Vistas Fellowship
  • Presidential Management Fellowship

With co-sponsorship from the Institute for Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, we are delighted to be reaching a significant chunk of the community college and transfer population and offer this back to the communities that we come from. While the event is targeted towards community college and transfer students interested in public service, international affairs, or global education opportunities, all are welcome to attend. Participants will hear directly from professionals and alumni of all the programs mentioned above. If you know people or networks that would benefit from attending, make sure to have them register for the Institute and spread the word! 

The Summer Institute for the Global Education of Transfer Students is one part of our efforts, and feeds directly into our free summer mentorship program that will connect 40+ mentors with 100+ mentees to help them to apply to competitive fellowships and scholarships. All attendees at the summer institute will be eligible for the mentoring program. Over the course of three months over summer 2021, mentors will work one-on-one with individuals to help them chart pathways into public service and competitive fellowships. 

As the lead co-founder and current Co-Executive Director, it has been the honor of a lifetime to coordinate the project and recruit a diverse team of talented, brilliant transfer students and fellowship participants to give back to the community colleges and four-year universities that shaped us. We are united by our shared commitment to diversity and inclusion, while also utilizing our networks to expand access and connect non-traditional talent with fellowships and professional opportunities in foreign affairs and global education. The ProFellow community is a perfect space for us to discover new collaborations and potentialities, and I encourage you to reach out to me directly at nshafer@berkeley.edu and follow us on LinkedIn. If you are interested in becoming a mentor or connecting us to your networks, then don’t hesitate to reach out to us! 

In addition to leading Global Community College Transfers, Nicholas Shafer is currently a John Gardner Fellow at the USAID Middle East Bureau and will move to the UK in Fall 2021 as a Marshall Scholar to complete graduate work in Development and Middle Eastern Studies. A past recipient of a Fulbright Research grant in Morocco and the Boren Scholarship in Jordan, he is a proud graduate of UC Berkeley and Foothill College. A proud native of the Bay Area and newly-minted DC resident, you can usually find him mixing cocktails, talking politics, and trying to learn new languages.

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