Colorfully marked phrases, “Raising the Bar” and “Exceed Your Expectations,” are scrawled on a poster that’s attached to the dry-erase board in a Serra Hall classroom. The words, motivational to the core, surround a drawing that depicts a series of “books” together. One book title is “first gen(eration),” another says “low income.” Two more say “disabilities” and “underrepresented.” And then there’s a fifth book, one that’s eager to join the others and is being lifted up by a drawn male and female. The title? “Graduation.”
This message is easily visible for a record 79 University of San Diego students participating in the on-campus, federally and USD-funded Student Support Services (SSS) Summer Bridge program. Selected eligible incoming freshmen and more than a dozen transfer students have been here all week, receiving an intensive, educational, authentic and supportive introduction to college life.
Each student is also here because SSS students fall into one of the categories, or “books,” listed above. There are 79 individual stories amongst this diverse group of learners, two-thirds of which are female.
The 2011 Summer Bridge group includes 27-year-old junior transfer Larry Novelo, who served in the Marines for eight years. Novelo’s goal is to go to medical school and become a doctor, perhaps working for an international medical organization such as Doctors Without Borders. After accruing 60 units at San Luis Obispo’s Cuesta College, Novelo, a first-generation college student, plans to study industrial and systems engineering at USD.
“Summer Bridge has helped me learn the nuances of this university,” says Novelo, who is from North Hollywood, Calif. “It’s been good to know that I’m not alone. I’ve met other students who are first generation like me.”
Many of the Summer Bridge participants come from hard-working, yet low-income families, SSS Director Sara Boquin says. Many come in knowing that earning a college degree means as much to their families as it does to them.
“A lot of the students carry with them their family’s hopes and dreams,” says Dr. Esteban del Rio, associate professor of Communication Studies and one of six Summer Bridge faculty members conducting mock classes this week to prepare students for when the fall semester starts Aug. 31. “The students are very serious, but they’re also very nervous about doing well. I think this week gives them a remarkable start.”
Students attend daily small-group classes with professors Del Rio, Dr. Alberto Pulido (Ethnic Studies), Dr. Eric Pierson (Communication Studies), Dr. Michael Williams (Political Science/International Relations), Dr. Kathleen Kramer (Electrical Engineering) and Dr. Rick Olson (Mechanical Engineering). Furthermore, one faculty member gives a daily lecture to the entire group. Afternoon activities include workshops on financial aid, communication, campus resources and computer training. Fun events include a tour of San Diego and a day trip to Mission Bay. Night events included a movie screening with discussion, sports/recreational events in the Valley residential area, a video game night at the UC’s Frank’s Lounge and a “Jeopardy”-style Battle of the Sexes trivia game.
Summer Bridge started with 22 students in 2006 through SSS, which is a program within the USD Institute of College Initiatives, and has grown each year (27, 29, 42, 70 and 79). The big jump in numbers in 2010 came when USD, thanks to the efforts of the Office of the Provost, and has made a significant financial contribution enabling more new USD students to participate.
Boquin graduated from University of California, San Diego and participated in its eight-week Summer Bridge program. Those connections helped her graduate from college despite financial challenges. Going through the program herself, Boquin said, was critical when developing the inaugural USD Summer Bridge itinerary.
Boquin works tirelessly with SSS students year-round, but she’s got an equally dedicated staff. Three academic coordinators in SSS are also USD alumni — Rachel Acosta ’06 (BA Sociology), Freddy Delgado-Wong ’10 (MA Counseling) and Joshua Denton ’09 (BBA). Key administrative support is provided by Ramiro Frausto and Rebecca Bernhardt ’10, who was in the 2006 Summer Bridge and currently works for SSS and USD’s Center for Inclusion and Diversity. Many students who go through Summer Bridge, including Bernhardt and another recent alumna, Phi Nguyen ‘11, come back as mentors.
“We’ve all overcome similar obstacles and know we can provide that (support) for someone else,” Boquin says. “We can help students find the resources they need. We show up every day with a sense of purpose in what we’re going to do and students feel that.”
Two Summer Bridge students, freshman Olivier Jegat from Carmel, Calif., and San Diego’s Alejandra Hernandez, a junior transfer from San Diego Mesa Community College, both said this week has been like spending quality time with family.
“The other night I was with a few of the other guys and we were in a big circle and there was a lot of good conversation,” Jegat says. “I got to know the other guys and it was good to know that we were on the same page.”
Hernandez, who chose USD because of her Catholic faith and to be close to family, will study accounting. She credits Summer Bridge mostly for its ability to ease her nerves as she transitions to a four-year college. “It’s been good to get into a daily routine now and know where everything is on campus instead of having that happen on the first day of school. The staff is very friendly and helpful. This week has made me feel more comfortable.”
— Ryan T. Blystone