"Connect. Empower. Inspire."
These are the three words Educational Opportunity Program director Bryan Spencer used to describe the goals of SDSU's Summer Bridge Program.
These words encompass the intensive five-week program's nature to a tee. Over the course of the program, students are connected to campus, as well as to each other. They are empowered to question, debate, discuss and get involved. And they are inspired to make an impact.
"We really strive to make students understand that they belong here — that they deserve to be here," Spencer said.
The program, Building Essential Skills and Talents, began July 7 and continued until August 8. Over the course of the month, students participated in rigorous academic coursework, learned valuable college preparatory skills and established a network of fellow EOP students and counselors.
This year's Summer Bridge program welcomed 128 students — 56 lived in the residence halls and 72 commuted from home.
Each summer a group of new Educational Opportunity Program freshmen students are given a chance to get a head start on their college education and experience life at SDSU. The Educational Opportunity Program caters to first generation, low income and historically disadvantaged students.
"We really strive to make students
understand that they belong here —
that they deserve to be here."
Students participate in five weeks of academic studies designed for them to earn up to six academic units and to develop writing, math and study skills. The program helps these students to meet SDSU’s writing and math competency requirements.
They also take part in activities to help familiarize them with the university and to explore the city of San Diego.
Despite the importance of a campus connection, Spencer emphasized how critical it is for the students to connect to each other.
"The activities we do and discussions we have really show the students how similar they are to each other," Spencer said. "We're hoping that every participant leaves this program with 130 new friends."
Students are exposed to the multitude of programs SDSU has to offer both on and off campus.
Through various campus tours, hands-on tutoring, intensive coursework and exploring San Diego, students are able to see what it takes to be an involved Aztec.
Thalia Bernal, an incoming freshman studying psychology, had reservations about being prepared for college.
"Before the program, I was really anxious to leave my family and be on my own," Bernal said. "But this program showed me that I can do it and that I have a great support system."
"This is a transitional program to retain them not just through the first year, but to get them to graduation,” Spencer said.
The bridge program boasts an impressive list of alumni, including the Associated Students President, Josh Morse.
"The program really gives you a feel for what it's like to be at a university," Morse said.
Despite the culture-shock students often experience transitioning from high school to college, the bridge helps ease students into the college world.
"When I first got here, it was hard to adjust," said Josephine Villalta, an incoming freshman studying public relations. "But the program showed me how much support I have on campus and all of the opportunities I have to be successful."
The five-week program concludes with a banquet held on campus, celebrating the achievements of the students.
Reggie Blaylock, associate vice president for Student Affairs, explained that the work students put into the program will apply to all aspects of life.
"The start has everything to do with the finish," he said. "Use the skills and knowledge you earned this summer and don't let them go to waste."
SDSU's Summer Bridge Program is regarded as one of the nation’s finest summer transitional programs.
Participants generally have higher grade-point averages and lower academic probation rates compared to other SDSU students. Alumni have gone on to graduate school or successful employment as professionals in varied fields. SDSU is among the nation's leaders in improved graduation rates. The Summer Bridge program is an important part of that success.
You get out what you put in, Morse said. "You can get engaged or you can cruise by — but is that how you really want to spend your college experience? By crusing by? This program heightens the responsibility level."
As for the EOP Summer Bridge Program participants, they won't be 'crusing by.'
"I really want to get involved," Villata said. "SDSU has so much to offer and I don't want to waste any opportunities I have."