Participation is key for transfer students

“It was amazing coming to campus and having an immediate group of people that you could be friends with and people to show you around.”

Like many transfer students who made the transition to a new college in January 2020, Emma Legacki barely had enough time to settle in before the COVID-19 pandemic upended an already new college experience.

“I was really happy here. I was enjoying my classes. I felt challenged,” she said. She admitted that it was “a little frustrating.”

“I just got here, [started] making connections with professors and all of a sudden, [we] were on Zoom.”

While losing the opportunity to connect in-person with her new campus community was challenging for her at first, Legacki quickly found ways to become part of Mount Holyoke’s virtual community by participating in the programs the College made available. 

One of Legacki’s fondest memories of her online experiences was the virtual celebration of Mountain Day, a tradition that dates back to the founding of the College, where students hike to the summit of a mountain in Joseph Allen Skinner State Park. For the virtual event, Mount Holyoke students who were scattered around the world were asked to hike a hill or mountain in their area, as a far-flung community.

“It rained at home on that day, and even though I couldn’t go hiking because of thunderstorms, I saw everyone else doing it,” Legacki said. “I was part of the community, even though I wasn’t actually there.”

A women’s college — even a gender inclusive one like Mount Holyoke — wasn’t on her radar when she originally applied for school. But when biochemistry was cut from the curriculum of the university she was originally attending, Legacki decided to reach out to a professor for guidance. That professor had once been a lab instructor for Mount Holyoke and recommended that she explore the College as a possibility.

She applied and started in January 2020, the spring semester of her sophomore year.

An unexpected bonus of attending Mount Holyoke has been the opportunity for Legacki to continue her love of playing lacrosse, which she has played since kindergarten but had to give up in order to save for college. Though she had little hope of being able to pursue that passion, she was happily surprised when she received an email from Mount Holyoke’s assistant lacrosse coach, inviting her to play for the College.

“It was amazing coming to campus and having an immediate group of people that you could be friends with and people to show you around,” she said. “Also, I really did miss the sport.”

Not only did Legacki gain a new group of friends in her lacrosse teammates, but she also received the opportunity to be a leader to her peers. She has served as the team’s captain for two years.

“Coach [Miriam] Esber really pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and apply for a leadership role my junior year. Being captain has been really challenging, but also very rewarding,” Legacki said. “Because of both her and the opportunity to be captain I speak my mind more now. I stand up for myself and for the people on my team. I think it’s taught me a lot of hard lessons that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.”

Academically, Legacki thrived with the support of her advisor, Craig Woodard, who was instrumental in helping her acclimate to Mount Holyoke’s intense biochemistry course load.

Woodard, known as the “fly guy” on campus, has a lab dedicated to the study of how steroid hormones affect fruit fly development. 

Legacki, in part inspired to understand more about her own mother’s battle with melanoma, undertook an independent study in fall 2021. Under Woodard’s tutelage, she devised an experiment to expose fruit flies to UV radiation and analyze its effects on ocular tumors.

“Craig encouraged me to develop my own focus in his lab, rather than simply assisting in his research,” she said. “It brought my passion back after COVID-19.”

Apart from her academic and athletic pursuits, Legacki is also active in student leadership, serving as a class senator, helping plan traditions and being an advocate for other student athletes and transfer students.

She is still deciding whether to take a job offer as a research assistant at a biotech company in Boston or to begin the biology master’s program at Tufts University. But one thing is for sure: She will return to Mount Holyoke’s campus to cheer on the lacrosse team.

“It’s on my list of things to do next year,” she said. “I’ve made friends who are underclassmen. I’ll definitely be back for all the alum games.” 

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