Helder Serrazina, a 2020 Springfield Technical Community College graduate, expects to earn his bachelor’s degree in 2021 and then his master’s in 2024. Luciano Alvarez-Sanchez, also a 2020 STCC graduate, is on track to earn his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2022. Kenneth White, who earned his associate from STCC in 2019, will graduate with a bachelor’s degree this year. All three STCC graduates are now studying at the University of Massachusetts Amherst – two enrolled in the prestigious and competitive Isenberg School of Management – thanks to the state Department of Higher Education’s MassTransfer program.
Each saved a pretty penny by taking most of their introductory and core required courses at the less costly community college, saving the bulk of their major-related courses for their two years at UMass. But that’s not the only reason they chose that route for their college education.
STCC History Professor John Diffley, who oversees STCC transfers to UMass, said in addition to the savings, many students appreciate the individual attention they receive from faculty and staff on the STCC campus.
“We have much smaller class sizes where you’re not going to be in a class of hundreds. You actually get to know your faculty, and we get to know the students,” Diffley said. “There is a much more hands-on feel.”
Especially for first-generation college students, this level of attention can be immensely helpful in learning how to navigate the various departments including financial aid, and making the right course selections.
“When you make a relationship with faculty and others, they can really help you when you move on and we can help them understand what it’s going to be like,” Diffley said.
Diffley should know – he also is a first-gen college graduate, earning his bachelor’s at the State University of New York at New Paltz and going on to UMass for graduate school. In addition to teaching history at STCC, Diffley is program director for STCC’s honors and liberal arts and general studies programs and advisor to more than 18 students.
Because many students don’t know about the MassTransfer program when they enter STCC, he makes it a practice at their first advising session to ask about their goals, and then tell them all about the program.
MassTransfer is a contract between the state’s 15 community colleges and its 13 four-year undegraduate institutions that allows students to take pre-approved blocks of community college courses guaranteeing entry into the four-year schools and a seamless transfer of credits. Many students can graduate with a bachelor’s within two years of earning their associate degree.
At STCC, UMass counselors offer regular office hours to guide students who want to go to UMass after STCC, helping them make course selections that optimize their transfer prospects. In 2019, 50 students transferred to UMass within one year of their graduation from STCC. Between 2010 and 2020, 806 students who graduated from STCC subsequently transferred to UMass.
UMass is one of the top four-year transfer institutions for STCC students, ranked just behind Westfield State University, which enrolled 57 STCC transfer students in 2019. In total, about 27 percent of STCC students transferred to a four-year institution within one year of their STCC graduation in 2019.
“We can help them to make sure they are choosing the right chemistry or the right math to apply to their degrees so they are really staying on track to graduate on time,” said Rosalee Scannell, associate director of MassTransfer Admission at UMass. She said the program has many benefits.
There is no application fee or essay required, and students are guaranteed admission providing they are in good academic, financial and disciplinary standing. This means it can be a much less daunting transition for many students.
“MassTransfer is a really good opportunity for students to take classes that are not only going to transfer, but apply to their degree,” Scannell said. That is crucial to making sure they can receive their bachelor’s in as few years as possible.
White, 21, who graduated from Longmeadow HIgh School in 2017, learned about MassTransfer in high school and entered STCC with that option on his mind.
“I wanted to save some money,” he said. “I looked into it and figured it was the smart way to go.”
White remains on track for a May 2021 graduation from the Isenberg School at UMass. After that, he hopes to work in operations management in a government agency.
Meanwhile, Sanchez, who earned his associate in mechanical engineering at STCC, is happy to be pursuing the same major at UMass. A native of Colombia, with English not his first language, Sanchez, 34, said he was not sure a bachelor’s degree was in the cards for him. But with confidence and skills gained at STCC, he is now living in Amherst while studying at UMass. He expects to graduate next year, and with his bachelor’s degree in hand, he hopes to find work in the renewable energy field.
Serrazina is well into his bachelor’s degree in business administration, business analytics and hospitality and tourism management. He then aims to go for a master’s degree in public policy and business administration, which he hopes to complete in 2024.
At age 32, Serrazina is a non-traditional-age student who came to STCC after following a family tradition in the hotel industry. His father and grandmother worked for decades in the business back home in his native Portugal.
Serrazina says his dream is to open his own hotel that he would run with his husband, who is an entertainer.
“I want to make sure no matter what the situation that I do this with profound respect for the art that we practice because for some of us, this is a calling,” he said.
Evidence that this is a calling for Serrazina can be seen in his persistence in the face of many obstacles. He completed his STCC degree and successfully transferred 75 credits to UMass while working fulltime as a hotel clerk and raising two foster children with his husband. He will be the first in his family to graduate from college.
But he’s not complaining. Far, far from it.
“These driven years of my life,” he said, “have been some of the happiest years of my life.”
Interested in applying to STCC? Visit stcc.edu/apply or call Admissions at (413) 755-3333.
About Springfield Technical Community College
STCC, the Commonwealth’s only technical community college, continues the pioneering legacy of the Springfield Armory with comprehensive and technical education in manufacturing, STEM, healthcare, business, social services, and the liberal arts. STCC’s highly regarded workforce, certificate, degree, and transfer programs are the most affordable in Springfield and provide unequalled opportunity for the vitality of Western Massachusetts. Founded in 1967, the college – a designated Hispanic Serving Institution – seeks to close achievement gaps among students who traditionally face societal barriers. STCC supports students as they transform their lives through intellectual, cultural, and economic engagement while becoming thoughtful, committed and socially responsible graduates.