Into the University

Transfer students make up a significant percentage of CAES enrollment, contribute unique perspectives

When a student is choosing a college, there is a lot of emphasis on finding the right fit, and stories abound of students walking onto campus and “just knowing” a certain college or university is “perfect.”

In reality, the college experience is, above all, a growth experience. Students may find themselves struggling when a major or institution they thought was the perfect fit starts to feel not quite as made-to-measure as they first believed.

At the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, a significant percentage of students who earn degrees — about 25% this past fall — are external transfers from other institutions, both from within the University System of Georgia and elsewhere.

“About 45% of our students start as first-year students in our college, while the remaining 55% transfer from another degree program outside our college or outside of the university,” said Doug Bailey (BSA – Horticulture, ’80), associate dean for academic affairs at CAES. “These students are important to our college because, from a student recruitment standpoint, there are more viable jobs available in the marketplace than we have graduates to fill them.”

In particular, job opportunities are readily available for graduates in the plant, poultry, and animal and dairy sciences, he says.

Offering an attainable path to transfer to UGA from other institutions is important in attracting these students, Bailey added.

“We need to communicate the transfer route more clearly to students who are interested in our programs. If they are transferring from another University System of Georgia institution, they can often transfer in without skipping a beat,” he said.

In the past, many students transferred to CAES because four-year degree programs weren’t available at their first college, but others transferred for the opportunities available through UGA.

Kristy Griffis-Arnold (BSA – Animal Science, ’00; MED – Agricultural Education, ’02) transferred to CAES from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) in 1998. “My original goal was to go to veterinary school, so I started as pre-vet,” said Arnold, who is the third generation to run her family’s cattle farm in Screven, Georgia. “Once I got to UGA, I changed my major to animal science and then decided to pursue a master’s degree in agricultural education.”

Arnold, who currently serves as president of the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association, said her love for the industry and her agriculture background kept her in the family business. “It came down to the number of years I would be in school. I wanted to get back home. When you grow up on a farm, it is hard to adjust to concrete and asphalt. So, two more years to get my master’s degree sounded better to me than six more years to be a vet,” Arnold said.

Despite the university’s size, Arnold felt at home at CAES.

“It is obviously a much larger campus and student body, but in CAES there is a small, family atmosphere with like-minded folks,” she said. “It wasn’t like jumping into another major with people I didn’t have anything in common with. Many people had the same kind of background and the heart for it that I did.”

Involved faculty members — such as Julia McCann and Robert Lowrey — provided an education that complemented the practical knowledge she had learned from farm life.

“The science of nutrition and genetics is something you have to learn from a textbook. The application you can learn on a farm, but you have to learn the science and why you have to calculate formulas,” Arnold said. “The science of nutrition and genetics was as critical for me as the hands-on education and labs were necessary for folks in my class who didn’t have that experience.”

When Johnson Collins transferred from ABAC to study agribusiness at the UGA Tifton campus in fall 2017, she never thought it would lead her to Washington, D.C. Last summer, Collins spent 12 weeks in the D.C. office of Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, serving as a UGA CAES Congressional Agricultural Fellow.

She was the only person in Isakson’s D.C. office with a background in agriculture and was able to provide a unique perspective on issues while solving problems with people of varying backgrounds. The experience left her with a new perspective on government and life in general.

“This opportunity helped me to narrow down my future career choices,” Collins said. “I have always been curious about working in D.C., but I never thought there was a place for an agriculture major in the city.”

Collins’ major takeaway from the experience was the need for agricultural knowledge in the capital, and she wants to fill that role. “It made me realize that no matter what career I choose in the future, I want to be able to help people in a meaningful way,” she said.

Transferring to UGA-Tifton was a small step geographically, but the move has opened up the world for Collins. After a year on the Tifton campus, she transferred to the Athens campus for her senior year.

“I chose agriculture because I participated in the Farm and Agribusiness Management Career Development Event in FFA throughout middle and high school, and that is what I liked — I was really good at it and I really enjoyed it. I knew that was what I needed to go into,” Collins said.

"There are so many more opportunities at UGA, from the study abroad opportunities to the excellent Agriculture Fellows opportunity I had. I felt I could go much further with the programs here. Everyone here was very welcoming, which made it much easier to go from a really small environment to the main campus.”

Collins has participated in many activities since coming to Athens and she plans to apply to graduate school in agribusiness or agricultural economics at CAES.

“I realize now how many more doors will open for me, especially if I stay here for two more years,” she said. “I absolutely made the best decision transferring to UGA.”

CAES animal science major Cassie Powell grew up on her family farm in Johnson County, Georgia, where she raised and competed with cows for seven years and show pigs for 12. Her experience showing animals helped her realize her passion for caring for them. She became convinced that, in the agriculture industry, the humane treatment of animals is paramount.

She earned an associate’s degree in animal science from ABAC in May 2018 and, this past fall, was the first transfer student to enroll in UGA’s Food Animal Veterinary Incentive Program (FAVIP), a specialized program in CAES for pre-veterinary students. The program guarantees students’ admission into UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine and helps to cover the cost of tuition if they agree to study food animal veterinary medicine.

Since transferring to UGA, Powell has become involved in many student clubs, including Block and Bridle, the UGA Cattlemen’s Association and the Pre-Veterinary Medicine Club, to meet like-minded students and become acclimated to her new academic home.

“The faculty is definitely responsive to any questions I’ve had,” Powell said.

By Maria M. Lameiras

We need to communicate the transfer route more clearly to students who are interested in our programs. If they are transferring from another University System of Georgia institution, they can often transfer in without skipping a beat.

Doug Bailey

Artwork of graduate and Conner Hall
Composite illustration by Katie WalkerCOMPOSITE ILLUSTRATIONS BY KATIE WALKER