Jerry Gantan was lost.
As a transfer student entering Davis during the winter quarter of 2006, he, like many transfer students, struggled to adjust.
“It’s really tough timing – we have to make that switch from junior college to harder upper-division classes,” he said. “You have to adjust to a quarter system. You have an hour or two of orientation, and after that you have to find your way.“
Two years ago, Gantan, along with seven other colleagues, co-founded the Health Transfer Student Association, an organization dedicated to helping transfer students going into the health field make the most out of their time at UC Davis.
HTSA programs various events throughout the year designed to help students navigate the gamut of obstacles they face during their transition to UC Davis, as well as their journey to medical school.
For example, last year the organization held a “How to Apply to Medical School” information night. Ed Dagang, director of admissions of the UC Davis School of Medicine, came to speak directly with prospective applicants about what qualities and qualifications are sought by medical schools. His speech was followed by a student panel of four former transfer students who were currently attending the UC Davis School of Medicine. Both the panel and Dagang answered a barrage of questions from curious (and worried) students.
“Especially as a transfer student, there is no one to really show you the ropes,” commented Gantan, a biological sciences major and HTSA’s current president. “[At the information sessions], you get really in-depth, unique insight that is different from other sources.“
Other information sessions focus on broadening students‘ horizons in the pre-dental, pre-optometry and pre-pharmacy fields.
For Natalie Ramirez, the information night for pre-optometry students was very beneficial.
“An optometrist came from Kaiser [Permanente] and talked about what he does, and how his work is different from private practice. At the end, he gave us his contact information,” explained Ramirez, a senior psychology major. “Later on, I was able to shadow him a few times at Kaiser, and got to see what [the profession] was like firsthand. It’s been one of the best things for me.“
Other events include “How to Get a Letter of Recommendation” and “How to Get an Internship as a Transfer Student.” Last year, Dr. Jack Goldberg, professor of neurobiology, physiology and behavior studies, gave a presentation on what professors look for in writing recommendations. The event was well-attended, with approximately 80 students filling the lecture hall to capacity.
“We wanted to give transfer students an advantage by telling them they need to go to office hours, establish a relationship, and most of all, not be intimidated [by professors],” said Heather Engelken, a biological sciences major and HTSA’s vice president. “You get [information] directly from the horse’s mouth – what an actual professor would want and expect. You find out not only how to get a letter of recommendation, but how to get a good one.“
But HTSA does more than simply inform – it gives students a network of friends and peers to rely on. Transferring to a university isn’t always easy; under a time constraint of two years or less, the student must adjust to life at UC Davis, attempt to find the resources the university has to offer and use those resources to help him or her earn a place in medical school.
“The mindset of the transfer student is that you have to fend for yourself. When I joined this club, it really showed me that there is a group of dedicated transfer students who were in my shoes, who have been here, and want to help,” said Jeremy Cheang, a senior biochemistry major.
Cheang has interned for two quarters at the UC Davis Medical center, a position he found through the Internship and Career Center’s presentation to the HTSA.
“We all have to go through the same things – good grades, letters of recommendation, internships. It gives us a bond. These people have taught me so much and in this club, you can give back. It’s a whole network of peers there to help each other out,” Engelken said.
In addition to information nights, HTSA members also fulfill a community service component. Each Sunday, they purchase, prepare and serve dinner to homeless men and women at the cold weather shelter sponsored by Davis Community Meals, located on Fifth and D streets. The “Feast at Fifth,” as the weekly event is called, is funded primarily by HTSA membership dues.
“You don’t go into pre-health unless you like helping people,” Ramirez said.
And while helping others is certainly the main purpose, volunteer work offers some enticing side benefits. It gives HTSA members a chance to bond and helps distinguish medical school applicants as involved members of their communities. And it’s fun.
“We sat down and eat together, we watch football, we spend time [with guests] and find out a little bit about their lives – it’s eye-opening,” Engelken said.
HTSA events are open to all students; non-transfer students and non-members are encouraged to attend as well. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
ANDRE LEE can be reached at email@example.com