Summer Bridge Program Continues to Make a Difference
For most members of the 2018 class, this past summer was spent soaking up the last weeks of freedom before embarking on their college journey. But for a select group of incoming freshman, the months of July and August were spent getting a sneak peek at what lay ahead as college students. Nearly 300 students were invited to participate in Summer Bridge. The six-week, invitation-only program on The University of Texas at Austin campus seeks to provide incoming freshman with tools and resources to jumpstart their first year on campus. It addresses some of the universal challenges of beginning the college journey and aims to equip students who have been identified to benefit from intimate learning environments.
For Chioma Ujari, Summer Bridge offered the opportunity to “get use to the academic environment of UT and figure out how UT classes worked.” A native Houstonian, Chioma’s primary expectation was to get more comfortable with college-level courses, but discovered one of the greatest dividends of the program was establishing a community of friends and peers. “It is so big here, if I had just come here as a freshman – how would I have possibly been able to meet people and make friends? Now that the fall semester has started, even in some of my bigger classes of 100 plus students, I can identify a few folks that I know. It’s really been helpful academically and socially.”
Along with receiving a fully funded experience, including housing, food, books and a $1,000 scholarship stipend for students who maintain a 3.0 GPA throughout the program, students are provided with invaluable guidance to help inspire healthy study habits and proactive tendencies seeking help from professors.
Ruby Chapa, a freshman from San Antonio, appreciated the program’s pedagogical approach to one-on-one instruction. “I’m a science person, so it was important for me to develop my writing. My rhetoric teacher was so hands on – she had a day when we would talk about our papers one on one. I had never had a teacher pay that much attention to my work, she knew everything about my writing. They really prepared us.” In addition to strengthening critical thinking and writing skills in the program, students are awarded college credit for completion of their summer courses. “It’s so great to get ahead of the game, to come into the fall with a bit of knowledge of what to expect. Having credits already was really motivating,” Chapa said.
Likewise, Ujari was elated and relieved to have the opportunity to test the academic waters before the fall semester began. “Summer Bridge was the best experience I could have had coming into college. I am not going to freak out or get overwhelmed now, because I already have study habits that I can bring to my classes,” she said.
A celebrated byproduct of Summer Bridge’s mission and student-driven focus is the program’s diverse community of students. With nearly 300 students benefiting from the services each summer, students from various social and ethnic backgrounds are given the opportunity to interact and cultivate cultural connection, an observation not lost on the students. “In high school I was only around black people, but Summer Bridge exposed me to every type of person,” observed Ujari. And though the UT Austin student body as a whole isn’t as diverse as the Summer Bridge student group, she said, “because of Summer Bridge I know there is a diverse group of students that do exist. Summer Bridge gives you access to a multitude of diverse organizations. It’s really cool and important to be aware that there are people from all over the world here at UT, even it’s not obvious or visible immediately.”
Summer Bridge continues to effectively prepare students for entry into Longhorn life. This year’s students have expressed their appreciation for the program, petitioning program administrators to expand the capacity of the program to benefit more students.
Chioma Ujari believes the opportunity she was given was a true gift, “When I started the fall semester, I knew how the campus works, I knew how the bus system works…Having had theses experiences, I have the advantage of feeling more comfortable. It’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulder. I gained a whole wealth of knowledge that not every freshman has. My twin sister wishes she had something like Summer Bridge at her school.”