Transfer Stories: Q&A w/ Athena Sternklar


Nida Khan, Staff Writer

Here at Montgomery College, transferring is a widely shared goal among students. At times, the process can be taxing. However, there have been many success stories to gain inspiration and ideas from.

Former Montgomery College student, Athena Sternklar, kindly agreed to share her transfer story with me over email in Q&A format. Athena transferred from Montgomery College to Columbia University. The following is her transfer journey, through her own words!

Athena Sternklar
Via Email Exchange

Nida Khan: What was your journey to Montgomery College Like?
Athena Sternklar: Everything about my story is non-traditional from the very beginning. I actually dropped out of high school shortly after turning 17 and obtained my GED. I then started at MC in the Spring of 2014.

NK: What did you do during your time here?
AS: My first experience at MC progressively got worse because of the stage of life I was in. My mental health and life circumstances were not ideal for excelling in academics. I decided to leave mid-semester of Spring 2015. I ended up taking three years off from school, during which time I worked, traveled around the world, and volunteered in the humanitarian field. When I came back with vision and purpose in 2018, I became an honors student and joined the Renaissance Scholars program. I took honors seminars on transitional justice and international relations/women’s studies. I also participated in the Summer Alternative Break in 2019 which had a focus on public health in the DC area. I was also working full-time while studying part-time at MC.

NK: What first brought you to consider applying to the institution you are at?
AS: I had never even considered the possibility of going to an Ivy League institution. I was set on attending the University of Maryland. When I first applied though, they rejected me. I planned to re-apply but also started to wonder if it was because I was not meant to attend there. Once I was part of the Renaissance Scholars honors program, my perspective of possibilities was widened. I had a meeting with Professor Naake who initially suggested applying to Columbia. I thought it was crazy and that they would never consider me, but she encouraged me that it was possible.

NK: What was the application process like? What made it easier? What were some complications you didn’t see coming?
AS: I decided to apply pretty last minute. A lot of the credit goes to Professor Naake who actually mailed me an application fee waiver, explained to me which application I needed to fill out, and reviewed my essay. It was a bit rushed, but it all worked out.

NK: What was writing your essays like?
AS: Since I was applying to the School of General Studies (for non-traditional students who have taken a year or more off from school), the application was a bit different. I had to write a five-page autobiographical essay about my life, how I spent my time out of school, and my goals for the future. For me, this was quite easy, and I wrote it all in one night.

NK: How has adjusting to your institution been like?
AS: So far adjusting to Columbia has been very interesting, challenging, and encouraging. It has been amazing to have professors at such a high level of prestige in their fields and to interact with them (also intimidating at times). The workload is much, much heavier, but the content of what we are studying is more intriguing than textbooks. I will never forget what a peer advisor said during orientation, “at other schools, you read textbooks, but at Columbia, the professors write the textbooks.” This is so true, and it is displayed in what types of scholarly writing, literature, and articles we read.

NK: Does this school have a strong transfer community?
AS: Yes! Especially in GS (the School of General Studies), there are many students transferring from community colleges. I also have a classmate who transferred to Columbia College.

NK: What resources have you used as a transfer to adjust?
AS: The GS community at Columbia is very strong and supportive. The school orientation, peer-advisors, and my academic advisor have all been so helpful and encouraging. They essentially give you all the information you need to know for your time at Columbia during orientation. There is also an Academic Resource Center, a Writing Center, and free tutoring.

NK: How has transferring helped you become the person you are?
AS: Being a transfer student at Columbia gives me so much insight and perspective that I can share with my peers and it also inspires my responses in class discussions. Remembering where I came from and how I got here gives me great confidence in my ability to succeed, moving forward.

NK: Any advice for transfers?
AS: I would advise students who desire to transfer to aim high, take risks, cultivate your personal story and goals, and ask for more financial aid!

As you can see, transferring does not have to be a straight line. Make sure to use this time to explore however you can, and make sure to take advantage of the resources and programs at Montgomery College. Athena mentioned the Renaissance Scholars program, which is an honors program that offers special classes and seminars that draw on what classes in graduate programs are like. We spoke with another Renaissance Scholar along with an MC graduate on The Advocate Podcast speaking about their transferring journey. You can listen here.