Transferring and feeling left out

Donnell Willis, a transfer student from Alberta, wishes she had more support from STU. (Tom Bateman/AQ

Donnell Willis transferred to St. Thomas University for all the right reasons: small class sizes, a tight community and a great human rights program.

She decided to shift course after working in a homeless shelter in Calgary where she had been studying psychology at the University of Alberta for three years.

She wanted to fix the system so that the people she saw at the shelter didn’t fall through the cracks.

She wishes STU could do the same for her.

Now in her second year at St. Thomas, a lack of scholarships available to transfer students and her omission from the dean’s list have Willis feeling undervalued by the university.

“Sometimes I just feel like being a high achiever and trying to get all these things and working so much, you’re better off to just relax and go have fun and financially struggle and then apply for scholarships,” said Willis, who won’t be going home for Christmas this year because she can’t afford the $1,000 flight.

In order to make the dean’s list, students must have a minimum A- average with 30 credit hours within the September-to-April academic year.

After taking a few years off between her studies at U of A and at STU, Willis decided to only take four courses – or 12 credit hours – her first semester last year in order to ease back into university life. And even while working two jobs, the 25-year-old finished last year with a 4.0 average.

Had she known this would hinder her dean’s list eligibility, she said she would have “sucked it up” and taken five courses that first semester.

“All the hard work that I’ve done, it’s for myself, and I don’t need the school to recognize it. It just seems a little ridiculous that…I don’t even get an invitation for a dinner when I’ve busted my ass to get what I have.

“I just feel like the students who do work hard sometimes don’t get recognized. I think they should look at, like, why are those qualifications in place.”

While he understands Willis’ frustration, Larry Batt, dean of students at STU, said sometimes that’s just the way it is.

“Dean’s list eligibility is based on performance at St. Thomas with a minimum grade and it’s a recognition of pretty much the top 10 per cent of our students,” he said in an interview, accompanied by Kate Crawford, director of recruitment, and registrar Karen Preston.

“It’s an entitlement.

“Not every student who does well gets an award.”

According to Preston, the university’s policies allow every student to work off the same playing field – transfer student or not.

“You have to make sure you’re comparing the same thing,” she said.

The university’s entrance scholarships are based on high school grades as the last grades the students achieved. Upper year scholarships are based on STU grades, something transfer students have yet to acquire.

However, all STU students, including transfer students, are immediately eligible for millennium bursaries. The bursaries are given out based on emergency financial need. This year, the university had a total of $30,000 to offer students.

According to the list of scholarships posted on the STU website, Willis qualifies for over 10 upper year scholarships or bursaries. She’s applied for  two, as well as filling out the generic scholarship forms as suggested by the registrar’s office.

Willis doesn’t think she’s the only one who has fallen through the cracks.

Willis’ friend, Laura Rogers, transferred to STU to pursue human rights after she spent a year at Mount Allison University.

Like Willis, even though her GPA was high enough, she didn’t make the dean’s list this year because she was short three credit hours. She has yet to receive any scholarships either.

STU has 115 transfer students this year, a group that recruitment director Crawford says is hard to target.

These students come from all over, she said, making it harder to make them feel welcome.

Crawford hopes transfer students don’t feel alienated because of lack of scholarships available initially.

Willis still loves STU for the same reasons she did a year-and-a-half ago.

She only wishes the university could reciprocate that love in more tangible ways.

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    Very typical of STU for their students with high grades to not feel rewarded for their efforts.
    Those on the Dean's list, like myself, can't even receive the now renewable entrance scholarship because I am in my third year rather than my first. My commitment to finish an undergrad at STU and represent them with a high GPA was not enough — they rather use it as a business tactic to attract new students.

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