The Perfect Fit


Sometimes, we choose a college and discover that it wasn’t the best fit. Some of us have that realization more than once. We sat down with Nyemba, who came to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after transferring three times, to talk about her experience with the transfer process, her adorable emotional support teacup chihuahua, Piper, and why UIUC was the best fit for her.

Nyemba poses with her dog on her lap.
Piper, a teacup chihuahua, has been Nyemba’s emotional support animal since her junior year of high school.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

“I’m a person of color. I’m a woman. I’m part of the LGBT community. … I’m also a transfer student. So I think of myself as the ‘minority of minorities,’ because there are just so many things that make me a minority, but stacked on top of each other, which I love about myself. … I embrace it. …

“I also have an emotional support animal. Her name is Piper. She’s a teacup Chihuahua. She’s the best thing in the entire world. I can’t say enough about her.”

How did you choose your major?

“I ended up in psychology because I thought the research was fun—I hated writing it, but presenting it was fun and telling people about the findings was fun. … I didn’t have the option of a psychology concentration at my other schools; this is the first school I’ve gone to that actually has concentrations. … I landed on industrial organization because I realized I didn’t really want to do anything typical psychology-wise. Industrial organization is a lot of business, and it feels more applicable to things.”

What do you hope to do with your degree?

“I want to do something that means something, which everyone says, I think. … I know industrial organizational psychologists go into human resources. I think a huge part of human resources is making sure your company is helping minorities. … When you don’t have enough women, when you don’t have people of color, when you don’t have people who are different from you, it’s a huge problem. So maybe I can make a difference in that.”

Can you tell us about your transfer process?

“I transferred here after transferring multiple times to other schools. I first started off at Knox College, which is a small liberal arts school in Galesburg, Illinois. … I transferred after one semester to a school an hour north of Chicago called Lake Forest College, another small liberal arts school. …

“After the first year of college, which was a very untraditional freshman year, I went home and was like, ‘Okay, let me just sit and figure this out for a second.’ So, I ended up going to community college in my hometown and did some fun things there. … And now I’m here and it’s fantastic, and I love it.”

What’s something you love about it?

“The town obviously loves the school. The school obviously loves the town. … I think that’s a lot of what makes a school feel like home.”

Nyemba participating in a jazz band.
Nyemba, who plays 16 different instruments, has participated in jazz band at all 4 colleges she’s attended.

How you have found a place on campus?

“The music program here is impeccable, which is something that means so much to me. … I play 16 different instruments, which I started doing in junior high. … I was in our jazz band playing first trumpet [in high school], which was cool because I only started trumpet freshman year.”

Do you play trumpet in the jazz band here?

“I do, yeah. … I would say that’s the one connection I have to all the schools I’ve been to—I’ve been in a jazz band at each one.

“I really like the fact that my jazz band is instructed by a PhD student. A lot of times, jazz bands are instructed by the teachers and stuff, but it’s fun working with someone who is closer to our age and has been working here and playing jazz for a while. That’s super cool.”

You mentioned your emotional support dog, Piper. Can you tell us more about her?

“I have had Piper since my junior year of high school. At first, I got her just because I wanted a dog, and I’d only had cats. … But I had a lot of mental health problems in high school and the beginning of college. …

“I did not have Piper my first year of college; she stayed at home with my mom. My second year was when I was at community college. I lived at home and had Piper with me the whole time, and it was fantastic. … She slowly got trained to be an emotional support animal for me throughout this time when I was at home.

“I live in an off-campus apartment that’s by the University Group. … I had my therapist send a letter to the company. … They were like, ‘Okay.’ And so they got the papers. It was super easy. I have her with me. She’s the best in the entire world.”

Nyemba in front of UIUC fliers and promotions.
Nyemba has never settled in her pursuit of excellence and feels a sense of contentment at UIUC.

Most of the time, people only talk about one-time transfer stories, even though sometimes it takes more tries. Why do you think that is?

“During my transfer process, I was the most insecure. … It’s like, you transfer one time and now you’re going to the new place that’s going to be good for you. … Well, what if you find out that other place isn’t it? …

“There’s not really a ‘normal’ college student anymore. I don’t think there ever was, honestly. But I kind of hate when in high school and college all I heard was, ‘You’re going to find a place and you’re going to call it home and it’s gonna be awesome. You’re going to graduate in four years, you’re going to find your best friends.’

“A lot of students get to college, and it’s not like what they say in high school. I think a lot of people feel insecurity, especially transferring, just because they’re like, ‘Oh, there’s something wrong with me because I didn’t find this place to be home.’”

Do you have any advice for students who haven’t found the right college on the first or second try?

“Probably advice I give myself: Don’t settle. You’ll find it. And if it doesn’t just jump out at you, like, ‘This is the right place,’ that’s okay. I mean, Illinois wasn’t like, ‘This is the place; this is home.’ … It was more of a content feeling. I was very content, and I was just mellow instead of feeling stressed and insecure. … Yeah, I would just say, ‘Don’t settle. Keep trying.’”