KENTFIELD / NOVATO, CA—College of Marin’s (COM) Summer Bridge program has several elements that are both broad in scope and very specific. But, the impact of the program on new college students is significant.
Summer Bridges are short-term programs that have been offered at California colleges and universities since the 1970s to help students successfully transition into college. Student participants gain academic skills and get access to resources that often put them ahead of those who don’t attend.
COM has been offering their Summer Bridge program since 2014. It was created because of the College’s partnership with local nonprofit 10,000 Degrees, an organization that supports first-generation college students get to and through college to reach their academic goals.
10,000 Degrees Program Manager Tania Requenes and her team of fellows originally coordinated the program. The fellows are near-peer mentors who build relationships with the students and help them navigate college.
The first program had 24 students, and each year it continued to grow. COM now partners with 10,000 Degrees to co-lead the program. COM and 10,000 Degrees’ collaboration gives students access to resources and support that are not easily found elsewhere; and it’s this close partnership that makes COM’s program so unique.
10,000 Degrees began as a scholarship program, yet as Requenes says, “when you provide a scholarship, it doesn’t mean they have everything they need to succeed. We developed this near-peer fellowship model and that was what provided the extra level of support for students to succeed.”
Summer Bridge is a twelve-day program held over three weeks. The program “is about what are the characteristics of a successful college student,” says Anna Pilloton, COM’s director of school and community partnerships, who first began the partnership with 10,000 Degrees.
Students develop supportive relationships by attending COM’s Summer Bridge program. The program includes academic counselors, faculty members, student ambassadors, COM’s co-leading Outreach Coordinator Julian Solis, and 10,000 Degrees co-leading coordinator Tania Requenes along with her team of fellows. Everyone is there to support the students over this short time period. “It’s hard to tell them what they are signing up for,” Requenes states, “but once they are in and learning things that aren’t covered in high school, they start seeing the value in it.”
Students learn how the college system works so they are prepared to be a part of this new system. They learn how to register for classes and to apply for financial aid, how to learn online, and to navigate the different college departments to get what they need to reach their goals. Students locate departments and academic programs so their first week of school isn’t as difficult.
Academically, students review English and math with COM instructors that not only ensures a higher rate of success, it often places students into a higher course level, saving time and money. Students are introduced to COM’s research librarian who can help them find research materials and create a proper bibliography. Students who use these resources typically receive a grade higher in their coursework.
There are the many intangible advantages to the program, such as getting to know some of COM’s instructors, staff, and counselors, and meeting new friends. Academic counselors meet with students one-on-one to talk about their future, to create an academic path, and explore career options if the student is unsure of what they want to do. 10,000 Degrees Fellows mentor students through the financial aid awards they qualify for. And, COM student ambassadors, answer questions on how to navigate the College as a student. “Watching students from the first day to the last, their body language, their whole affect changes,” remarks Pilloton. “You can see it physically and in their retention too.”
Solis went through a Summer Bridge program when he was in college and notes, “you sign up for things as a student and you don’t appreciate it at first, thinking it’s something that takes time out of your summer but it’s such a benefit! The first couple of days students are like, ‘someone signed me up and I don’t know what I’m doing here.’ Then they make friends and it becomes a worthwhile investment.”
Jonathan Eldridge, COM’s vice president of student learning and success, agrees. “The data clearly show COM’s Summer Bridge program is a key part, along with learning communities, in our improved student persistence and success rates. It is a cornerstone of our commitment to educational equity.” COM’s administrators, faculty, and staff, and 10,000 Degrees are all committed to the program’s success and continued expansion.
Due to the pandemic this year, the program went online. It was a huge undertaking, but everyone made it work well ensuring students had laptops, hotspots, and other necessities to complete the program. They also realized many of their students were essential workers or needed to take care of family members during the day. So, they offered their first ‘asynchronous’ Summer Bridge, a self-paced program where students had the flexibility to watch instructor and counselor videos and complete assignments on their own time. It was so successful that they plan to continue offering it in an online environment.
Based on local need, this year was also the first time COM offered a Summer Bridge program specifically for English as Second Language (ESL) learners.
The ESL Summer Bridge was a six-week program requiring students attend for three hours, four days a week. It had the elements of the original Summer Bridge program with similar teams involved and included intensive language acquisition. Even with technology and access issues, work conflicts, and immigration concerns, 25 students completed the inaugural program.
This year, with a grant from 10,000 Degrees with Marin Promise, each student was able to choose between a new laptop or a book grant of the same monetary value, and also received a $250 micro-scholarship.
Virtual graduations for both programs were held Thursday, July 23, 2020. Every person who spoke from COM and 10,000 Degrees, from Dr. David Wain Coon, COM’s President, to the 10,00 Degrees Fellows and student ambassadors, encouraged students to reach out to them throughout their academic career.
The highlight of the ceremonies was hearing from the students. Juan Camara Pech commented, “I want to thank everybody that made this program and this class possible because it really helped me in the transition of going back to school. It has given me the resources to be able to reach out to certain people, as well as different programs that I didn't know about. So, I feel like it’s going to be a huge help going into the fall semester to have those resources available and those people that are looking out for your success.”
Solis responded, “there's a lot of people in your corner. There's a lot of people, now, especially after this program, that you can reach out to.”
Cristian Espinoza Oscal, in the ESL program, ended his speech saying, “actually, I feel prepared for college. Now I just want to go for it!”
For more information on 10,000 Degrees, go to 10000degrees.org.
Discover more about COM’s Summer Bridge Programs or any of COM’s learning communities at marin.edu.