Bridging the Gap: Summer Bridge helps ‘level the playing field’

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Ariel Hayat/File

Justin Uribe, a rising UC Berkeley sophomore, called enrolling in the campus’s Summer Bridge program “one of the greatest decisions” he has ever made.

Uribe, a first-generation Latinx student, said he was motivated to enroll in Summer Bridge last summer to better prepare for the rigor of college.

“The program really gave me a head start.” Uribe said. “It was a great experience — I definitely learned a lot and grew from being in Summer Bridge.”

Summer Bridge, which is administered by the campus’s Student Learning Center, is “a holistic six-week academic residential program” that exposes participants to both coursework and a variety of on- and off-campus resources, according to its website.

The program enrolls about 300 to 400 students every year, with more than 7,200 Summer Bridge scholars having completed the program since 1973, according to the Student Learning Center.

77 percent of the 2014 Summer Bridge scholars were eligible for either Pell Grants or the California Dream Act, according to the campus’s Educational Opportunity Program. 71 percent of the 2014 Summer Bridge cohort were also the first members of their families to attend college.

Khuyen Nguyen, Summer Bridge’s communications director and director of the SLC’s International Student Program, said Summer Bridge has an underlying “social justice mission” born out of the Civil Rights Movement.

“At Summer Bridge, we create infrastructure to help students from low-income, under-resourced and marginalized communities,” Nguyen said. “After 6 weeks, we give students the tools, skills and connections to enter the fall with confidence. We want them to have a clear sense of what the rigor of Cal looks like.”

Summer Bridge not only allows students to take three courses for academic credit that count towards campus graduation, but also connects participants with various campus support services, including counselors and peer advisors.

The program also acclimates students with residential life — participants have meal plans for dining halls and stay at campus residential complexes in “a close-knit living and learning community,” according to the Summer Bridge website.

Uribe said the differentiating factor of Summer Bridge was its comprehensiveness of experience — the program exposes participants to multiple “pieces of the whole pie,” rather than solely academic resources.

Nguyen said even though the program has “just 6 weeks to close as many gaps as possible” for participants, Summer Bridge has been proven to be effective.

Nguyen cited a study commissioned four years ago by the executive director of the SLC, which found students that had been enrolled in Summer Bridge adjunct math program performed better than students with similar profiles who “did not have access” to the same program.

Nguyen said, however, that calling Summer Bridge a “remedial program” would be a “mischaracterization.” Nguyen said program participants were motivated and “not folks you have to fix.”

She added that the program has been “thoughtfully designed” to address systemic educational inequity.

“Compared to the area that I’m from and the high schools I went to, some of my friends (at UC Berkeley) went to private schools or are from more affluent communities,” Uribe said. “Summer Bridge really helped level the playing field.”

Nguyen noted that although the program focuses on targeting students from under-resourced communities for enrollment, Summer Bridge is open to all incoming freshmen, with its classes “featuring an incredible level of diversity.”

Then-Cal basketball players Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb discussed their experience taking courses during 2015 Summer Bridge session at an October 2015 press conference. According to Brown, the Summer Bridge program and courses “enlightened” the two about education at UC Berkeley.

“(Summer Bridge) just made me realize there are so many things that we can get into as students,” Rabb said at the press conference. “I didn’t realize that there are so many lanes that can be opened up just by being here.”

Uribe said he would “love” to see Summer Bridge expand and receive more funding to offer greater space and capacity for program participants.

Nguyen said the goal for all campus programs was to expand and serve more students. She called Summer Bridge a “critical intervention” for program participants who carry educational disadvantages.

“The core value and core mission of Summer Bridge and across all the (SLC) programs is that we have to reach every student at Cal,” Nguyen said. “As long as we’re here, Bridge is going to be here to stay.”

Contact Bobby Lee at [email protected].

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