Athlete transfers talk transition

Given the College’s 97 percent retention rate between freshman and sophomore year and its near-zero acceptance rate for transfers, those who do begin their collegiate careers outside of Williamstown before coming to the College face a tough transition integrating into the community without the support of a first-year entry, pre-orientation group or related resources. Following a wonderful Captains’ Corner interview I conducted in September with Austin Lommen ’16, the co-captain and quarterback of the football team who transferred to the College in his junior year from Boston College, (“Captain’s Corner: Austin Lommen ’16, Sep. 30, 2015) I was curious to see if other athletes who transferred from Div. I schools to the College had transitions that were as successful as Lommen’s.

Accordingly, I spoke with two Ephs who compete in Div. III programs at the College after playing at the Div. I level earlier in their collegiate careers: Sophie Kitchen ’17, who competes for women’s golf since transferring to the College from the University of Minnesota after Winter Study 2015 and Valerie Oyakhilome ’18, a member of the women’s basketball team who transferred to the College this fall from Fairleigh Dickinson. Both women readily assert that their time at the College has allowed them to maintain stronger commitments to their academic careers. Kitchen details how her schedule at Minnesota left her with little time to focus on the books instead of the links. “My first year at Minnesota was pretty insane,” Kitchen said. “We were in season immediately [in the fall] from September to Nov. 1 and [in the] spring from February to May. And because my scholarship was conditional, I was put under a ton of pressure to practice as much as possible.” Kitchen relayed how, on top of playing 18 holes a day during the week, her golf responsibilities included working out three times a week while in-season and four times a week in the winter, attending additional “captain’s practices” and tournaments that required air travel. On the pre-medical track at the College, Kitchen finds her new academic program more intense yet satisfyingly fulfilling: “What differentiated me from my teammates at Minnesota was definitely my major. Like many state schools, there was a huge variance in difficulty of programs and the vast majority of my teammates were sports management majors which required very little effort inside or outside of the classroom. At Williams, I have found golf to be a wonderful stress-reliever from the rigorous academic schedule and the two really complement each other well.”

Oyakhilome expressed similar sentiments regarding the new academic opportunities she has found compared to those at her previous school. “The academics were pretty average, but the school was known for its criminal justice program,” Oyakhilome said. “I was a criminal justice major with a minor in law and legal studies. I took the most challenging courses, but it still was not too much of a challenge for me. Williams offers great academics and resources. I know I am surrounded by the most brilliant students in the country and I am on the right track to achieving my goals.”

Both students also elaborated on how the switch from Div. I to Div. III programs has made athletics a less central component of their lives. Kitchen remarked how her unwillingness to center her life entirely on golf led her to the College. “ In the fall of my sophomore year, I brought my letter from the athletic department to my organic chemistry professor explaining my schedule and he was completely taken aback,” Kitchen said. “He told me later that he complained to the athletic department and my coach cut me from the team a couple weeks into the season. When I think about the pressure my coach was under from the athletic director and alumni, it doesn’t make sense from her perspective to have science-oriented students. It’s a little sad to think that may be the direction Div. I is going and there will always be exceptional student-athletes who can balance the two extremes, but I do not think I was one of those people. I felt like I was being pulled in two separate directions and was not able to give my best effort to either.”

Oyakhilome has found a new hierarchy in her transition into the College. “At my other school, being on the basketball team defined who I was and how I was known,” Oyakhilome said. “Here, most of my friends that I have made do not see [me] as just a basketball player and it is not an important fact about me. Athletes in my other school were at the top of the social ladder and the basketball players ran the school; we had no football team.”

In spite of the similarities in what they found in their athletic and academic experiences at the College, though, the Ephs each transitioned into their new collegiate environment differently. Kitchen felt easily welcomed, remarking that “Perhaps the best part about my transition has been the other eight girls on the team. They welcomed me immediately and have been so kind and helpful. My team is still extremely close and they are just really awesome and I love them all.” Oyakhilome, by contrast, did not find the adaptation as natural: “My role in athletics did not help me to transition here. For the most part, I was left to fend for myself. I was not in the entry system, but I was on campus earlier than the majority of the student body, so I was really lonely. My team didn’t come back on campus until the day before classes. Honestly, being a transfer at Williams is extremely difficult. The entry system fosters exclusion and I can see why the transfer rate is so low here. I’m not sure if I would have still come here knowing that. It would have been a tougher decision, that is for sure. I am grateful though because the school is much better than where I came from.”

As many watch Oyakhilome net baskets for the Ephs this winter and Kitchen continue to set records for her team, the hope is that the academic and Div. III athletic opportunities the College offers allow all those who transfer in to make the most of what they have discovered is the proper collegiate experience for them. After all, the underlying principle that guides the nature of Div. III athletic programs, competition “for the love of the game, has continously produced lifelong learners who have also consistently brought back to Williamstown the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cups.

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