STARS celebrates National Transfer Week; shines the spotlight on nine Transfer Excellence Leaders

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National Transfer Week is October 17 - 21! Services for Transfer and Re-Entry Students (STARS) is celebrating by shining the light on nine outstanding UC Santa Cruz transfer students! Nominated by faculty or staff for their contributions to the UCSC community, this year's Transfer Excellence Leaders are: Crystal Alvarez Castillo, Laura Galanos, DeShonne Keller, Noorain Bryan-Syed, Hassan Pathan, Joseph Cruz, Javier Hernández López, Juli Sofijski, and Effron D Veal.

Each has a powerful and unique story to tell.

Click the picture of each Transfer Excellence Leader to read about their leadership and incredible Banana Slug journeys!

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Meet this year's Transfer Excellence Leaders!

Crystal Alvarez Castillo, Senior

Pronouns: she/her

Major: Sociology

Minor: Education

College: Oakes College

When do you anticipate graduating? Spring 2023

Why Crystal was nominated: Crystal started working with me on a community-engaged research project "We Belong: Collaboration for Community-Engaged Research and Immigrant Justice" with a focus on the experiences of immigrant and mixed legal status families in Santa Cruz County. Because Crystal grew up in Watsonville, she has been an invaluable asset for our research project, working directly with the Jovenes Sanos youth organization in Watsonville to connect us with youth from immigrant backgrounds. She also helped organize a large community event in Watsonville last May 2022 to share our preliminary results and specifically helped translate many of our findings and posters into Spanish so that the wider Latinx community could have access to and learn from our research project. She is now working with me and with other students to translate our website and help write our final report. Nominated by: Steven McKay

Why UC Santa Cruz? I was born and raised in Watsonville, CA so the close proximity to my hometown influenced me to attend UCSC. I also always knew I wanted to work in my community and UCSC provided me the opportunity to stay and help out in my community while pursuing my higher education. Despite Watsonville being a short drive from UCSC, not many people from Watsonville attend. Every time I tell youth in my community that I attend UCSC they are amazed. It's an amazing feeling because for many I am the first person they know that attends UCSC. It’s an even better feeling when they tell me they are interested in attending UCSC!

What advice would you give transfer students? How did you get connected and find your place at UC Santa Cruz?: The biggest advice I would give to transfer students is to stay persistent. There are going to be moments when they might feel like giving up, but they always need to remind themselves that they earned their spot here.

Another advice is to not be afraid to try new things. UCSC offers many opportunities for students to form part of different activities (research opportunities, internships, clubs, etc) and find something that they love while meeting new people, ultimately allowing them to develop a sense of belonging. Professors are also great at connecting students to opportunities!

What will your UCSC diploma mean to you?:

By obtaining my diploma from UCSC I will demonstrate to my parents that their sacrifices weren’t in vain. It’s also going to serve as an inspiration for myself that I can obtain whatever I put my mind to, no matter how difficult it is. Most importantly, I can’t wait to say that this “low-income short brown girl from Watsonville” succeeded in an institution that was historically not created for her.

Laura Galanos, Senior

Pronouns: she/her

Major: Critical Race and Ethnic Studies

Minor: Economics

College: Oakes

When do you anticipate graduating?: Fall 2023

Why Laura was nominated: Laura is someone who models what it means to share openly and honestly about their lived experiences, especially to direct energy in building relationships within historically marginalized communities. I have had the privilege of supervising Laura directly within the Asian American/Pacific Islander Resource Center (AA/PIRC) since Fall 2021, and am proud for and with her as she created multiple spaces to build relationships within and expansive of our communities, relating to Asian American transracial adoptee experiences, and BIPOC in the outdoors in collaboration with the People of Color Sustainability Collective (PoCSC). Her presence as she is within and expansive of AA/PIRC helps make UCSC and this world a better place. Thank you Laura. Nominated by: Benedicto Llave

Why UC Santa Cruz?: I picked UC Santa Cruz because of the emphasis they put on social justice and the humanities programs they have to offer.

What are your co-curricular activities (ie., organizations, clubs, hobbies, etc.)?: I am an intern at the Asian American Pacific Islander Resource Center and am also a Neighborhood Assistant (synonymous with Resident Assistant) at Oakes College.

What advice would you give transfer students? How did you get connected and find your place at UC Santa Cruz?: I would recommend getting involved with an organization on campus. Becoming an intern at AA/PIRC helped me find community and make professional connections at UCSC.

DeShonne Keller, Junior

Pronouns: She/Her/They/Them

Major: Critical Race & Enthic Studies

College: Merrill-UCSC

When do you anticipate graduating?: Spring 2024

Why DeShonne was nominated: DeShonne Keller has been a pillar of the UC Santa Cruz community for the past 10 years.  DeShonne started off her trajectory at UCSC as a staff member, working a variety of different positions throughout campus.  DeShonne then decided to take part time classes at the local community college, and soon found herself actualizing her dream of successfully transferring to a 4 year university.  Though she’s only been a UCSC student for a short period of time, DeShonne has already taken strides towards making this institution a better place, by way of assisting with the planning and execution of the first ever ‘Black Day @ UCSC’, as well as by her hard work and dedication towards transfer students with the establishment of the Free STARS Personal Care Pantry. DeShonne’s care, hard work, and dedication make her a true transfer student leader who will leave their mark within the UCSC campus community. Nominated by: Jannet Ceja

Why UC Santa Cruz?: UCSC was the only place for me to attend, as I have a family and wasn't going to be able to commute to another school. While in junior college, my colleagues from UCSC supported me during my journey as I'm not a traditional student. Because I'm a staff member, we are offered a discount on tuition. I'm so grateful for this employee perk. If I didn't have it, I don't believe I would have applied to UCSC. At this age, I couldn't see myself putting myself in debt. The reduced fee waiver for staff members is a blessing.

What are your co-curricular activities (ie., organizations, clubs, hobbies, etc.)?: I enjoy going to concerts with friends and family. I'm a diehard football fan "GO SAINTS"!! I'm also a Umoja Core member on campus.

What advice would you give transfer students? How did you get connected and find your place at UC Santa Cruz?: The first quarter as a transfer student can be stressful. Getting acquainted with a new campus, plus adjusting to the quarter system, is overwhelming. If possible, visit the campus. Be sure to read all emails from campus before classes begin. The campus sends out a lot of important information. Connect with your college advisor to set up a plan for the first quarter, and don't be afraid to ask questions.

What are your hopes and goals for life after graduation?: I want to continue working in my current position at STARS-Services for Transfer and Re-entry students as the Administrative Specialist. I want to get more involved with student programming and advising, and I believe I can assist students with their transition as transfer students, and I would also like to connect with more students who are non-traditional. We all walk different paths, and I hope I can be a blessing to incoming and current transfers as they've been to me.

Noorain Bryan-Syed

Name: Noorain Bryan-Syed

Pronouns: She/Her

Major: Neuroscience

College: Oakes

When do you anticipate graduating? Spring 2023

Why Noorain was nominated: Noorain joined my lab as part of a program aimed to support transfer students and provide research experience. She displayed exceptional leadership by working as the Lead Transition Mentor for STARS, where she supports incoming transfer students in navigating and acclimatizing to UCSC, finding resources, building community, and so much more. She is constantly thinking about new ways to support our transfer student community and help build STEM identity. In addition to these leadership strengths she also performs fantastic research in my lab! Nominated by: Jordan Ward

Why UC Santa Cruz?: I'll be honest, I came to UCSC because the campus is in the middle of the forest overlooking the ocean, which sounded serene, and it definitely is! After attending UCSC, I feel that I have come to love it even more. The people here are very friendly which is nice because a lot of educational institutions can be competitive, and that usually translates to the student culture, but I feel like here at UCSC we cultivate a community that welcomes people of all backgrounds which is very encouraging and beneficial to us all. All the professors and faculty that I have met have been nothing but kind and helpful, they are so dedicated to make sure that they are able to create a safe space for all of their students to learn, and I appreciate all of their hard work.

What are your co-curricular activities (ie., organizations, clubs, hobbies, etc.)?:

1. I work as a Lead Transition Mentor at the STARS office, and I am blessed to be part of such an amazing and dedicated team; my team and I work together to serve our transfer students by supporting and guiding them to make sure they have all the resources they need to be successful in their educational and personal lives.

2. I also am working in a research lab under Jordan Ward (who is an amazing Professor on campus); I only recently started working for his lab over the summer and I am so grateful for this position. I am gaining a ton of lab/research experience and I feel very valued being in the lab amongst all my colleagues, and for being a woman in STEM, I cherish every moment I get to be in the lab.

3. Finally, I am a part of the wonderful MSA (Muslim Student Association) on campus. I wanted to give a big shout out to our MSA because when I first started coming to UCSC last fall, I felt very isolated and when I learned about the MSA and started to attend the events, I felt so welcomed by everyone in this group. Our MSA may not be as big as other colleges and universities, but everyone in our MSA is definitely very tight knit and i am grateful for everyone I have met through this association.

What advice would you give transfer students? How did you get connected and find your place at UC Santa Cruz?: Find your community, but more importantly, find yourself. As a transfer students, we go at a different pace than other students. We may have more experience, and we may have more drive, but we definitely need more friends. There's gonna be a lot of crying and late nights of studying, but make sure you have friends who you can cry with. Also make sure to explore yourself, you will be in the middle of a forest, take nature walks, give yourself breaks, make sure to drink water. You made it to university, you belong here, but you also deserve to be happy so make sure to take care of yourself along the way.

What will your UCSC diploma mean to you?: To my younger self, my diploma will be the "congratulations, you did it" letter that she always knew was to come. To my present self, my diploma will mean that there are still a lot of bumps and roads ahead that I have to cross throughout life. For my future self, my diploma will be a distant memory that I can reminisce on to remind myself where it all began.

What are your hopes and goals for life after graduation?: I have a lot of plans for after I graduate, I hope to attend graduate school, get a Ph.D. in Neuroscience, and pursue a career in research, but the one thing I hope I can keep with me through it all is my love and passion for learning. It's my work ethic that has gotten me this far, and I know it will keep me going.

Hassan Pathan, Senior

Pronouns: he/him

Major: Applied Mathematics

College: John R. Lewis

When do you anticipate graduating?: June 2023

Why Hassan was nominated: Hassan Pathan has positively contributed to the transfer community in many ways. Prior to joining UCSC, Hassan worked at his community college, Evergreen Valley, as a supplemental instructor supporting the learning of his peers. After only being at UCSC for 1 quarter, Hassan sought out the STARS Transition Mentor position to continue his leadership. In his work as a Transition Mentor Hassan provided one on one mentorship through meaningful relationships with incoming transfer students and additionally served as a representative for various events to increase awareness of STARS across UCSC and community colleges. Hassan's commitment to sharing his experiential knowledge and ensuring transfer students know they belong and are supported at UCSC is a testament to his care for others and his leadership. Nominated by: Vivianna Alvarez

Why UC Santa Cruz?: I chose UC Santa Cruz mainly because of the cost and how close it was to home (San Jose). My family is very important to me, so visiting and staying connected with them was definitely a top priority when it came to choosing schools. But then when I got here I was also thankful it was such a beautiful campus and so close to the ocean.

What are your co-curricular activities (ie., organizations, clubs, hobbies, etc.)?: I worked as a transition mentor for STARS for a year and that was a huge part of my development here at UCSC. I was also part of the Rocket team here where we design, prototype, build, and launch a 12 foot rocket for the NASA SLI (student launch initiative) competition. Some of my favorite things to do are watch movies (especially space related), photography around the city, weightlifting, and meeting new people. I took a sailing class last winter quarter so I think we can add that to my list of hobbies as well. I currently work as a math study hall tutor for LSS so that has also been really fun. I think of the study hall like an emergency room at a hospital; you never know what kind of problem someone is going to come in with.

What advice would you give transfer students? How did you get connected and find your place at UC Santa Cruz?: Branch out as much as you can. There are so many opportunities on this campus. From the different resources, professors, and peers; you can learn and experience so many unique things that you never even thought you'd enjoy. I got connected and found my place at UC Santa Cruz mainly through STARS. It was like a wormhole into a fruitful community in so many aspects. I got to connect with other first-gen transfers which was very comforting. I also found people with similar interests just from random conversations, whether it be in class or at a dining hall. Another piece of advice is don't be afraid of being alone. As a transfer student, we come in not knowing many people so you might feel pretty isolated at first. Get comfortable being your own best friend and you will never feel uncomfortable being out doing things alone.

What will your UCSC diploma mean to you?: Diploma? It's a degree right?? Either way, to me it's going to mean that I can provide for my family now properly and help me build a sustainable life for myself, my community, and hopefully the rest of the world.

What are your hopes and goals for life after graduation?: My hope and goal overall is to work at NASA. Honestly in any department, I think the work they do is amazing and so abstract. I spent a brief time there before the pandemic and got to experience the growth culture and creative environment. It really aligned with my values in an ideal workplace. I also hope to live a comfortable life and spread my wealth to those who need it.

Joseph Cruz, Senior

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Major: Biomolecular Engineering

College: Kresge

When do you anticipate graduating?: Spring 20223

Why Joseph was nominated: Joseph Cruz has excelled in research with the DuBois lab. He has presented his work to the board of trustees for UCSC. He is one of three undergraduate seniors applying for the NSF-GRFP National fellowship and is committed to making the most of his opportunities. Joseph is a community builder taking on the leadership of creating a discord channel this summer and organizing community activities that make all students welcome. He will be a transformational leader and excellent scientist, without a doubt. Nominated by: Yulianna Ortega

Why UC Santa Cruz? I chose UC Santa Cruz because of the support, resources, and opportunities. Regarding financial aid, UCSC offers the most financial aid package for transfers. They have diversity and transfer student-inclusive programs such as STEM Diversity, EOP, and STARS. The research faculty are very open and motivated to help students pursue their professional careers.

What are your co-curricular activities (ie., organizations, clubs, hobbies, etc.)? An important co-curricular activity I do is research in Dr. Rebecca Dubois's lab under the Stem Diversity program. I am currently taking part in becoming a member of Hermanos Unidos and Sigma Phi Zeta organizations. Some hobbies of mine are hiking, playing guitar, and cooking.

What advice would you give transfer students? How did you get connected and find your place at UC Santa Cruz? Coming into a four-year, quarter-system institution, one will be faced with many challenges, but we do not need to tackle them by ourselves. UC Santa Cruz is equipped with mentors to guide us every step of the way There are plenty of resources on campus to help transfer students to transition into university smoothly, so take time to learn about these resources. Lastly, find a community that will best support you in your time of need. Though we only have two years to complete our degree, make the most of your experience here because we won’t have this time again. We are transfer students, come ready and prepared; know that we belong here.

What will your UCSC diploma mean to you? My UCSC diploma will be another critical stepping stone in my professional and educational career. The final checkpoint will tell me that I am ready for the next chapter in higher education. It represents all the challenges I overcame, my determination and dedication to being the first in my family to graduate from college, and most of all showing my friends and family back home that it's possible for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve their goals.

What are your hopes and goals for life after graduation? My goal after graduation is to be enrolled in a Ph.D. program in bioengineering to further my higher education experience. I am deeply interested in researching new and exciting applications of biology as solutions for medical and societal issues. During my Ph.D. experience, I want to mentor transfer students to find their own way to be successful.

Javier Hernández López, Senior

Pronouns: He/Him/Him

Major: Molecular, Cellular, and Development Biology

College: Cowell College

When do you anticipate graduating? Spring 2023

Why Javier was nominated: Javier first got research experience as part of the ACCESS program, which is designed to be a bridge for community college students interested in research. After transferring to UCSC he returned to my lab where he has been performing research as part of a program aimed to support transfer students. He has been a leader in helping new transfer students learn techniques and settle into the lab. Javier has also mastered research skills, performing key experiments that earned him an authorship on a scientific paper. Nominated by: Jordan Ward

Why UC Santa Cruz? I chose UC Santa Cruz mainly for the curriculum, phenomenal research, and the beautiful campus engulfed in the redwoods and the nature overall.

What are your co-curricular activities (ie., organizations, clubs, hobbies, etc.)? I am part of the amazing Ward Lab, where we study genetics and molecular biology here on campus. In my free time I love to watch telenovelas, dance Salsa, and explore the Santa Cruz nature.

What advice would you give transfer students? How did you get connected and find your place at UC Santa Cruz? If were to start my transter experience all over again the things I would do different would be to find community by getting involved in student life. I would also not underestimate the quarter system and to have fun once in a while because part of the college experience is to be vulnerable and explore who you are!

What will your UCSC diploma mean to you? My diploma will represent every single person in my family who fought for me to be here. My diploma will be a beacon of hope to others like me who are under the DACA status and it will empower me to pursue higher education.

What are your hopes and goals for life after graduation? After my time here at UC Santa Cruz, I aspire to earn a doctorate-level degree in biological sciences.

Juli Sofijski, Senior

Major: Sociology

College: Merrill

When do you anticipate graduating? Spring 2023

Why Juli was nominated: Juli was a mentee this past academic year with Pathways to Research where she designed her own research project on non-traditional college students' retention in California universities. This past summer she worked as a research assistant with Pathways to Research Evaluation Project, where she cleaned, coded and analyzed several years of participants survey data. She also interviewed previous mentees for this project, where she recorded, and transcribed the interviews. She was an amazing asset to have this summer on our Evaluation Project.

Juli Sofijski served as a research assistant on my book project, Bodies of Evidence: Legibility, Medical Uncertainty, and the Knowledge Problem of ‘Rape Kits,’ through a Building Belonging fellowship at University of California, Santa Cruz, in spring and summer 2022. Juli assisted me in conducting content analysis of published literature in emergency medicine and forensic science to chart the history and evolution of medical forensic exams for sexual assault (commonly known as “rape kits”). We presented our research as part of the poster session at the University of California Global Health Day in May 2022. Juli spoke with conference attendees, explained our findings, and answered questions. She has demonstrated an acumen for research and a keen eye for detail. She is continuing to work with me this year through an independent study. I highly recommend Juli for this recognition. Nominated by: Rosa Navarro and Tina Cossaboom

Why UC Santa Cruz? I chose UC Santa Cruz for three reasons. I was looking for a university that was in or close to the SF Bay Area, had a strong sociology program, and was a research institution. Upon closer look, I fell in love with the beauty of the campus and looked forward to the smaller class size of the upper-division courses.

What are your co-curricular activities (ie., organizations, clubs, hobbies, etc.)? I spend my free time learning more about research and working as a research assistant.

What advice would you give transfer students? How did you get connected and find your place at UC Santa Cruz? My advice to transfer students is that two years go by very fast. It takes about a year to get familiar with a new institution, so use the first couple of quarters to learn as much as you can about the new place so that you can participate and take advantage of the available services as soon as possible.

What will your UCSC diploma mean to you? UCSC diploma is my first step to a career as a researcher.

What are your hopes and goals for life after graduation? I dream of contributing to society by addressing public health issues and working as a researcher. I want to pursue my education in graduate school in public health or social work.

Effron D Veal, Senior

Pronouns: He/Him

Major: Sociology

College: Stevenson

When do you anticipate graduating? 2023

Why Effron was nominated: Effron continues to overcome various life challenges while prioritizing his academic, personal and career goals. Even more, he is committed to making a positive impact on our UCSC campus by bringing a sense of belonging to formerly incarcerated and system students. I have witnessed Donnie's impactful leadership in the peer to peer connections he consistently provides while being a part of the student leadership team with the Underground Scholars Program. He is extremely resourceful and passes on his knowledge to his peers and brings awareness and visibility to the Underground Scholars community at UC Santa Cruz. He has a gift of making instant relationships and builds trust with his peers, therefore, he relates to his peers and other students and he can create an immense amount of sense of belonging for others who he interacts with. Thank you for your leadership and personal reflections that you share with your STARS and UCSC community, Effron! Nominated by: Elizabeth Moya

Why UC Santa Cruz? I came to UCSC for a couple of reasons. One, my brother, who I look up to like a father figure, is a graduate of UCSC, and so is his wife. I also came to UCSC because, although this may be a PWI, this institution has a black history. I enjoy being a part of the history here at UCSC.

What are your co-curricular activities (ie., organizations, clubs, hobbies, etc.)? I am a part of BSU, Outreach Coordinator for Underground Scholars, Renaissance Scholars, Black Men's Initiative,

What advice would you give transfer students? How did you get connected and find your place at UC Santa Cruz? One of the best ways to connect is to attend as many of the events that pique your interest as possible. Also, try to attend as many of the major events as possible. Don't be afraid to say hello, as UCSC is an environment that nourishes friendships between students.

What will your UCSC diploma mean to you? The feelings that stir from the thought of receiving a UCSC diploma are indescribable. I never thought a college diploma would be obtainable for myself. Now here I am about to walk across a graduation stage for the first time in my life. This experience has given me real-world confidence and given me a better understanding of the world in which we live.

What are your hopes and goals for life after graduation? There are several things I would like to do with my life. I would like to work with youth that have been impacted by mass incarceration or are at risk of being incarcerated themselves. I am also looking to work in the nonprofit industry as well as use my own lived experience to motivate others as my journey through life is unique.