When she first moved to Los Angeles to be an actress, Heather Adams had no idea what path her life would take. More than 20 years later, Adams, a UCLA transfer alumnus, heads the Transfer Student Program at the Bruin Resource Center. The program’s initiatives, which cater to transfer student-specific concerns, have helped make UCLA more accessible to that segment of the student population.
Yamamoto: It was the mid-’90s. Frosted tips were in, Tamagotchis were high tech, and Heather Adams had just graduated from high school. She was packing her bags and leaving her small hometown in Maine for the city lights of Los Angeles to become an actress.
For the next 20 years, she was one. She made her living guest-starring on TV shows like “NCIS,” “Desperate Housewives,” “House” and many others. But then she started feeling like she needed something more.
Adams: I really loved acting, and that was kind of my focus and my career, but I missed having a sort of rigorous academic adventure, you know?
Yamamoto: So in between shootings and auditions, she started taking classes at Santa Monica College.
Adams: And I loved it, I found that I really loved school, so in about 2010 I got really serious about it and started finishing all my units, and tried to apply to UCLA, got in, and transferred in 2012.
Yamamoto: Walk me through your first quarter at UCLA.
Adams: It’s a new environment, you don’t know where to go, this is a huge university. There are a gazillion of resources. It’s really complicated to maneuver that.
Yamamoto: This is something everyone experiences in one way or another, transfer and traditional students alike. But Adams thinks this overwhelming feeling is exacerbated for transfers because traditional students have two extra years to get used to it all.
Adams: And believe it or not, that’s really important time. Because that year, you’re getting the lay of the land, you’re really starting to find your niche and plug in.
Transfers are thrown in the middle as juniors, like “Oh, you’ve been in college before, you’re a junior.” But you feel like a freshman again, because you’re in this new environment.
Yamamoto: Adams was also in her late 30s when she started her junior year, and she didn’t identify with other, more traditional students right away.
Adams: I felt, as a commuter student, and as an older student, really disconnected. I’m not living here, it was hard to feel that community and get involved in the way that I wanted.
Yamamoto: Hoping she wasn’t the only one who felt that way, Adams, along with Vanessa Luke who was the director of the program before Adams, created a transfer Facebook page, where people could ask questions and share their experiences. At first there were two, maybe three people in the group.
But Adams would not be deterred. In order to address transfer issues on an institutional level, she created the Transfer Task Force.
The task force’s main goal? To pass a referendum that would add a transfer representative to the Undergraduate Students Association Council board.
Adams: It was a tough sell at first, but we tried to get 5,000 signatures, we went around everywhere we could, we really pushed the agenda, and the USAC board, to their credit, was really open to it, listened. We kind of bombarded their meetings, we gave a lot of speeches and wrote a lot of op-eds, and they voted unanimously for it.
Yamamoto: By the time of Adams’ commencement, the little Facebook group had grown from three to 3,000 members. Student Affairs was expanding the Transfer Program at the Bruin Resource Center, and when the original director of the program had to step down, they asked Adams to take over, along with co-director Melissa Sinclair.
Yamamoto: Together, they have been trying to make UCLA smaller for transfers by organizing events that connect them to campus resources and address their specific concerns.
Yamamoto: For transfers like Christina Springer, a fourth-year political science student, one of those concerns is that the traditional system is not set up to deal with transfer shell-shock.
Springer: You don’t get the kind of support that first-year students do. Your orientation is half a day, and it’s really focused on enrolling in classes.
Yamamoto: This leaves transfer students with a lot of questions remaining.
Springer: Different departments, and what they can do for me and where I go for certain things and where do I get counselling from and what does my enrollment look like.
Yamamoto: To remedy that, Luke started Transfer Transitions, a free, one-day event for incoming transfer students that serves as a compliment to orientation, where senior transfers give campus tours and hold information sessions to talk first-hand about what to expect, and how they overcame their own first-quarter challenges the year before.
Yamamoto: For Springer, this was enough to get a good head start.
Springer: I was able to get help through the services that the BRC provides, through other students, and also through professionals like Heather and Melissa. The Bruin Resource Center helped me find resources that I wouldn’t otherwise have known existed.
Yamamoto: Of course, there is always room for improvement. For example, many transfers who come to the Bruin Resource Center for help think that the office is too small to cater to such a large and diverse transfer population. To remedy that, the transfer community has been pushing for the construction of a separate Transfer Center.
Yamamoto: This one might not be such a tough sell, like the referendum once was, because transfers are a lot more engaged now. Remember the Facebook group? Its membership has more than tripled since Adams last called herself an undergrad.
Adams: Yeah, we just hit 10,000 yesterday, we were so excited, we’re like “Wohoo!”
Yamamoto: Looking back to her time as an actress, Adams has no regrets about her sudden change of heart. When she’s not in the office, you can find her studying for her doctorate program in education at UCLA. And driving to work at the Bruin Resource Center gets her more excited than driving to a set ever did.
For Daily Bruin Radio, this is Carolina Yamamoto.