'I hope this inspires someone': Student's transition to UHCL eased by advisor's support
When Gueydi Velasquez transferred from community college to University of Houston-Clear Lake this summer, it was more than just a change of schools. Enrolling in a four-year university was something she never even considered or dreamed possible.
Velasquez, a 34-year-old Honduran national, came to the U.S. 14 years ago and said she wasn’t even able to say “hello” in English. “I studied English on my own, and went to Houston Community College to take classes to get my GED,” she said. “They told me I could continue my studies at HCC, and I finished my associate’s degree. After that, they told me I could continue in a university, but I never knew that. I had no background in education.”
Her employment providing childcare for a family in Houston sparked her interest in child development. “I didn’t know I could go to a university because I thought it was just too expensive, but I got in contact with (Director of Transfer Advising and Student Transitions) Kristi Rickman at UH-Clear Lake. I never knew anything about transferring but Kristi asked me about my background; she said I could continue my education, and she told me about financial aid,” she said. “I was able to get it using my Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. Kristi knows not all students have the same knowledge about college and she is very patient. I really liked my experience of transferring with her, and now I have a degree plan and I feel like all the work I did before is worth something.”
Now on track toward a bachelor of science in psychology at the UHCL Pearland campus, Velasquez said that she’s also getting valuable, hands-on experience volunteering at the Intensive Outpatient Behavior Disorders Clinic there.
She said she’d never been in that kind of work environment, and her exposure to the clinic was helping her get a sense of how it would be when she got a job in psychology.
“I like the idea that I can do something for myself and for others without having my bachelor’s degree yet,” she said. “When you get a job, you have the pressure to do well, but when you’re in school and you don’t have the experience, you are gaining it without feeling the pressure of having a job. You’re getting your classes and learning along the way, studying and gaining knowledge. The university is providing what you need to apply what you learn.”
“I like how easy it was when I transferred to start volunteering,” she continued. “Kristi just told me how to contact the managers and the director at the clinic, and I didn’t know I could do it so easily without experience. You might feel afraid because you don’t know, but everyone helped and the others are there to support each other. I knew they would teach me everything.”
Rickman said she works to connect with transfer students when they’re in the process of applying so she and her team can help them map out their degree plan while they’re still in community college.
“I can tell them what to do when they’re still in their college so they can best prepare for our programs and develop a plan on when to apply to UHCL,” she said. “We try to ask the right questions so we can learn what each student needs—financial aid, work, and whatever restrictions they might have. We use all of that to help guide students while they’re still in community college to help them to eventually transfer here.”
After transferring to UHCL, students’ first step is to be shown an instructional video that shows how to log into e-services, guide them through using My Advisement Report, an online degree audit tool, which is re-recorded each semester to remain current and specific.
“My team is looking at any classes that didn’t transfer as expected,” Rickman explained. “We want to help students get in and on track toward their degrees. We are their transfer credit advocates; we look at the Texas Core codes for each community college for every student to ensure those are honored here at UHCL. Our mission is to help students get enrolled in their first semester and on track for their bachelor’s degree.”
Her team sees many students who are anxious about their transfer experience. “We take a lot of time to prepare transfer students about what to expect here,” she said. “We tell them their classes are going to be junior and senior-level work, so they need to be aware that it will be more rigorous than what they’re used to in freshman and sophomore classes in community college. We want them to make informed decisions about how to become successful based on what they’re juggling in their lives.”
Velasquez said Rickman had taken the time to listen to her and hear about the kind of classes she was interested in. “She motivated me to enroll, and she helped me find the right classes and I balanced my work and my education,” she said. “Now I know my bachelor’s is just the beginning of my journey. Kristi helped me understand that I can find my own area when I have my degree.”
Her ultimate goal is to continue to graduate school, study special education and make a career working with children who need assistance and therapy.
“When I left HCC, I thought that was all for me,” she said. “I found Kristi and she helped me. I was motivated to keep working. I have a good GPA and I can keep my financial aid. I’m finishing my classes and I feel happy, not pressured that I cannot make it. I feel blessed to be here and I hope my experience can help inspire someone who thinks this cannot be for them, but it is possible.”