Helping other students and gaining valuable experience

By Madeline Patton

A student-run program helps community college students with the transfer and transition process.

In 2019, two community college alumni at the University of California, Berkeley created College Leap to help community college students transfer. Now, with 20 chapters and multiple activities in the works, the co-founders aim to take peer advisement to new levels to improve students’ transfer experiences.

They’ve also structured leadership roles in the organization to raise the competitiveness quotient of active members’ applications to selective baccalaureate programs.

Since starting College Leap as an “ecosystem” to assist international students at community colleges, the co-founders have shifted the mission to help all community college students through the transfer process and transition to university life. With a crew of 10 active chapter leaders and 1,600 registered users of its website, they plan to expand to 50 two-year colleges in the next three years.

The student-run organization is structured to develop community college students’ leadership skills — and thus enhance their resumes for selective university programs — by having them organize national academic competitions, convene panel discussions with successful transfer students, and arrange internships at start-up companies. Each chapter also offers transfer-related activities at their community college campuses.

Co-founder Zijie “Jay” Zhao, 26, considers the leadership opportunities and training that College Leap provides to chapter leaders as the high-value experience that differentiates College Leap from other student clubs.

The leaders of community college chapters in California, Washington and New York, who were interviewed for this article, report that College Leap has improved their leadership and communication skills by connecting them via video conferences, email and social media with other community college students.

Appealing to big-name companies

Handy Pranata, president of the College Leap chapter at De Anza College (California), noted that increased fluency with virtual delivery of academic programs because of Covid helped him recruit 11 human resource managers, recruiters and interns from large companies to serve as panelists for a four-part Career and Internship Preparation Seminar. He was also tenacious. He emailed 80 people who he found through LinkedIn to ask them to participate in what began as a chapter project. When Pranata lined up speakers from Google, Amazon, Tesla, Paypal, AT&T, HP, Wish and OpenWave Computing, College Leap promoted the seminars on its website.

“I have never seen a club come together so effectively and so quickly,” said Melody Schneider, faculty advisor for the College Leap chapter at Edmonds College (Washington) since September.

She cited the MAJORNATOR live, virtual workshop that the Edmonds chapter offered in November via Zoom to illustrate her point. It featured three Edmonds alumni who shared information about their careers, the courses they took at the college and transfer tips.

“The MAJORNATOR event was a huge success and it was entirely due to the club leadership. The students were prepared and sought advice as they needed it, but every time they reached out to me, they had completed so much of the work so thoughtfully. All I did was offer small tweaks. They had a large audience, especially for a first-time event and their preparation and thoughtfulness made it a huge success,” Schneider said.

Phuo “Jasmine” Ngo Ngoc Bui, the Edmonds College chapter president, said in response to feedback from the 30 people who attended the MAJORNATOR that the club’s eight-member core team will offer a resume-building webinar this winter, and in March it will offer a business-focused MAJORNATOR workshop.

Bui, 17, said organizing College Leap activities have “curved my mindset.” She completed coursework for her high school diploma in Vietnam through Edmonds’ International High School Completion program and hopes to finish an associate degree in science in fall 2021.

Using past experiences

Bui reports that Zhao’s motivational talks and the strategic breakdown of College Leap tasks keep the far-flung chapter leaders going when Covid has stalled many extracurricular activities.

College Leap is the brainchild of Zhao, who said it is informed by his experience running his own start-up companies in the U.S. and China and his experience transferring from Foothill College to UC-Berkeley. One “pivot” attempted by his second company — Rocross — involved marketing U.S. community colleges to students in China. Though not a successful long-term business, Zhao said it provided him with “a very deep and comprehensive understanding of the community college transfer system.”

He also expressed gratitude to Cleve Freeman, director of the Transfer Center at Foothill, who helped him plan the courses he took at Foothill and select the four-year colleges where he applied.

An opportunity to help

At UC-Berkeley in 2019, Zhao met Biao “Bill” Wang, a community college transfer student. Zhao said he and Wang, 22, realized that international students face “a very special set of challenges not shared by the students at the four-year universities or by the local students at community colleges.” Without the local students’ familial and community connections, international students lack the personal networks that often lead to internships.

“So we initially started to empower the international students at community colleges by providing them with the internships, volunteer [opportunities] and the activities in other fields to help them improve their transfer resume,” Zhao said.

Wang and Zhao are both natives of China who enrolled in community colleges in the San Francisco Bay area to tap into the resources and opportunities of Silicon Valley to aid their long-term goals of enrolling in selective baccalaureate and graduate programs. Zhao describes himself as a non-traditional student because he attended the University of Rochester for two years (2013-2015) right out of high school, and then returned to China to work on his start-up company for three years before enrolling at Foothill in 2018. He hopes to earn an MBA after he graduates from UC-Berkeley this spring.

Wang, who majored in interdisciplinary studies, graduated from UC-Berkeley in December. He is now working full time on College Leap while preparing for graduate school. He hopes to enroll in a master’s degree program that combines his interests in education, technology and entrepreneurial enterprises.

“In terms of career goals, College Leap provides me a good opportunity for practicing leadership and entrepreneur skills in the educational field. Since we generate our values through our online platform, it is also a great chance for me to gain hands-on experience in delivering educational resources virtually,” he said.

During 2019-2020, College Leap had 10 chapters. Seven were at San Francisco Bay area colleges. Now it has 20 chapters; most are at community colleges on the West Coast.

There’s more to the story! Read the full article in CC Daily.

Madeline Patton

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.