Virtual Advisement Conference, Designing for Transfer, Puts Students at the Center

June 23, 2020

On June 18, the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) 2020 Fifth Annual Advisement Conference, Designing for Transfer, convened more than 130 attendees in Zoom gatherings.

Events scheduled for the second day of the conference will take place at a date to be determined, since Friday, June 19 was announced on Thursday, June 18 as a CUNY and state holiday celebrating Juneteenth, the oldest national commemoration of the emancipation of slaves in the United States.

Guest speakers for Day One of the advisement conference included Mercy College President Timothy Hall and a panel of SUNY transfer advisors from campuses in Binghamton and Purchase, New York, as well as from the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan.

The conference was hosted by BMCC advising units across many areas of the college.

It was coordinated by Academic Advisement and Transfer Center Associate Director Karen D. Ehrlich, College Discovery Counselor Nelson Izquierdo, ASAP Associate Director of Advisement Keshia Johnson, CUNY EDGE Advisor Andy Pina and BMCC Learning Academy (BLA) Senior Academic Advisor Christopher Rafinski.

Speakers address barriers that impact student transfers

Speaking at the event opening, Karen Ehrlich pointed out that while 80 percent of students nationwide report they want a bachelor’s degree, only 17 percent appear to have earned one. At CUNY, she said, 87 percent of students identify a bachelor’s degree as part of their higher education plan, while only 11 percent reach that goal.

“What are the challenges, the barriers these students face?” she asked. “What is biggest barrier for community college students?”

Responding through the Zoom chat column, participants listed factors they have witnessed with the students they advise: financial constraints, first-generation student issues, family obligations and family-work competing demands.

Ehrlich added to the mix, the fact that the biggest barrier for community college students is credits lost in the transfer process. “Losing credits is more costly for low-income students,” she said.

Keshia Johnson introduced the next speaker, BMCC Interim President Karrin E. Wilks.

“We are the mightiest advisor force in CUNY,” Wilks said. “We’re here to celebrate the expertise, commitment and passion that defines BMCC advising. Our modality changed, but not our spirit.”

Wilks said that advisement is critical to all aspects of the BMCC mission statement, and vision which states that “BMCC will be nationally recognized for improving student learning and success, excellence in research and knowledge creation, and for advancing socioeconomic mobility through the transformative power of education. I am honored and grateful to serve as your interim president and be here today with our mighty advisement team.”

Mercy College President Timothy Hall highlights student-centered model of advisement

Timothy Hall, president of Mercy College in the Bronx, shared a PowerPoint as he related the intellectual awakening of Nicolaus Copernicus in the 16th century, who realized the sun was the center of the solar system, not the earth.

“What happens when you change the center of higher education and you make students and student success the center?” Hall asked. “What happened between the 1990s and 2000s to replace the center in our thinking?”

He gave examples of new best practices including freshman orientation courses, early alert programs and learning communities, as well as data reflecting their effectiveness.

Hall also discussed critical factors including the “enduring equity gap involving family income and race” and the evolvement of “intrusive advising,” which enables counselors to reach out to students who are struggling instead of waiting for them to drop in for an appointment.

“Spark Joy” and other conference sessions to continue on Day Two, at a later date

Day One of the conference included a series of sessions called “Spark Joy,” and which were designed to shift the participants’ focus for short 15-minute segments of self-care practices. These sessions included a focus on gardening,  yoga, soap making and other activities.

“Due to the immense challenges facing our advisors as they provide services virtually and remain focused during a pandemic and important historical movement for Black Lives Matter, we felt that it was critical to give a gift in the form of Spark Joy sessions,” says Christopher Rafinski.

“The ‘spark joy’ concept originated from Marie Kondo, the ‘tidying guru,’ and it helps us identify the things that excite us and that we’d want to hold on to,” Rafinski says. “For many of the advisors, the Spark Joy sessions not only provided a welcome opportunity to interact with colleagues they had not seen in months, but also enabled them to be inspired towards new modes of expression and joy.”

Other session topics throughout Day One featured CUNY and BMCC programs including ASAP as well as the session, included “Navigating Transfer Culture Shock, Strategies to Support Students Through Transition.”

Day Two of the conference, to be delivered at a later date, will present additional “Sparking Joy” sessions as well as sessions featuring the advisement work of the BMCC Learning Academy (BLA), the Urban Male Leadership Academic (UMLA), the BMCC pre-law program, College Discovery, a CUNY Transfer Panel and others.

“Overall, the conference was intended to impart knowledge, but also provide an opportunity for all of the advisement units to unite,” Rafinski says. “All of the sessions from Day One did just that. We are now looking forward to the sequel — Advisor Conference Day Two, soon!”


  • On June 18, BMCC advising units came together for the Fifth Annual Advisement Conference, Designing for Transfer
  • More than 130 participants joined Zoom sessions examining how to raise the number of community college students who transfer to a bachelor’s degree program
  • Day Two of the conference — which was cancelled when CUNY announced the Juneteenth holiday on June 19 — will be delivered at a future date

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