Earning Three Units the Hard Way

Smart Start Transfer Academy brings forty MSJC students to UCR for 10-day intensive residency course

teacher at white board

Professor Eric Ozolins of Mt. San Jacinto College teaches his Introduction to Cultural Anthropology class during the 2011 SSTA program. Photo by Jolene Tuz

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) —  It takes a special kind of commitment for a student to sacrifice part their hard-earned summer break to take summer school courses. But 40 Mt. San Jacinto College students will be taking that commitment to an extreme as they participate in the Smart Start Transfer Academy’s unique residency course at the University of California, Riverside beginning July 26.

Now in its third year, the Smart Start Transfer Academy (SSTA) program is a partnership between UCR’s Transfer Resource Center and Mt. San Jacinto College (MSJC) – one of several summer programs hosted at UCR that are intended to enhance the academic achievement of students from across the state. A total of 40 students spend 10 days living in the residence halls, eating in the dining commons and taking one of two intensive classes – Introduction to Cultural Anthropology and Introduction to Philosophy – taught by MSJC faculty members. When the 10 days are up, the will have completed a three-unit course that is transferable to almost any four-year institution.

“The program provides students the full college experience in just 10 days,” said Jolene Sedita, a student affairs officer and the program coordinator for the SSTA at UCR.

Students in front of UCR sign.

Members of the 2011 SSTA Program pose in front of the UCR sign. Photo by Jolene Tuz

Another appealing aspect is the fact that the program is free for students, with room, board and tuition funded by a grant from University of California Office of the President’s Education Partnerships Early Identification Project. But there is one major requirement that can make the program a challenge for some: the students must stay on campus for the program’s full 10-days. For some, like 31-year old MSJC student Mark Qubain of Temecula who is attending the program for the second time, it means adjusting work schedules and family arrangements.

“Being a father of two boys ages 7 and 8, it’s already difficult attending college in the first place, let alone a class that requires a 10-day extended stay,” he said. “I’m fortunate to have a family that understands that I am doing this in order to provide them a more secure future, and they support me all the way.”

Even with these constraints, no student has ever been kicked out of the program. In fact, of the 80 students who have participated in the program over the last two years, seven have participated twice and 46 of the 52 students who have left MSJC have gone on to attend a four-year institution, including nine who have transferred to UCR. There are 28 students who are still completing their transfer admission requirements at MSJC.

Janet McCurdy, the transfer and articulation coordinator at MSJC, is responsible for recruiting students into the program. She seeks out students who intend to transfer and are taking courses towards that goal and warns them in advance that it will be a challenge.

“All students are told up-front the courses and SSTA program are intense and require commitment,” she said. “But the program opens doors and perspectives. You can take a student on a college tour, have them talk to an advisor, but until a student lives on campus while taking a class, the experience is incomplete. This program builds the student’s confidence and eliminates ‘transfer anxiety.’”

To earn the three units, students must spend up to 54 hours in the classroom over the 10 days. Class time is broken up into two three-hour sessions each day, a grueling schedule for both the students and the instructor.

Professor Erik Ozolins

Professor Erik Ozolins Photo courtesy of Mt. San Jacinto College

“No one wants to hear me talk for a whole three-hour session, let alone do it again after lunch. Fortunately, cultural anthropology lends itself very well to this set up,” said Erik Ozolins, the chair of the MSJC Department of Anthropology who will be teaching the cultural anthropology course. He added that the class includes films that detail different cultures and behaviors, class discussions and small and large group exercise. “That said the students have a test or assignment due almost every day. It is a lot of work.”

“There are definitely easier ways to earn three units,” Qubain said, adding that he hopes to attend UCR and would like to go medical school. “I do it to test myself, to see how far I can go and if I can make it in the ‘big leagues.’ The SSTA class is so intensive and difficult that I know if I can excel at this, then I can excel at anything.”

Ozolins said another benefit is the bond that forms between the faculty and students.

“I have had the opportunity to see most of my students from last summer over the course of this last year. Several even took other classes from me. There was always a warmth to the interactions that comes from the shared experience that rarely exists with other students,” he said. “Several of the students have sought me out for advice or letters of recommendation and I am always able to help them with more specificity than for most students because I know them so much better.”

The program is just another example of a long and successful partnership between UCR and MSJC.

“UCR has been, and will continue to be, MSJC’s number one UC transfer institution,” McCurdy said. “We just have a great working relationship.”

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