In this Complete Evidence-based Practice paper, we describe the development and evolution of a combined academic summer bridge program and outdoors experience program designed to support the academic success of incoming STEM majors at The University. Students’ transitions to university can be challenging for a wide variety of reasons, including increased independence, leaving behind parents and friends while simultaneously struggling to form new peer groups, and adapting to more rigorous coursework with less externally imposed structure than prior learning experiences. These challenges, especially those related to students’ sense of belonging and connection to other students, can be particularly pronounced for women, non-traditional students, first generation students, and members of underrepresented minority groups.
To address these challenges, This University developed a multi day summer outdoors experience designed to strengthening relationships, building community, and increase participants’ sense of belonging in STEM disciplines through camping, rafting, hiking, and exploring STEM activities in the outdoors. As the program evolved, we added an on-campus academic summer bridge program immediately preceding the outdoor experience focused on team building, skills for academic success, structured interactions with faculty, and social events designed to promote connection and academic success at the university. We also added a new focus on support of underrepresented racial and ethnic minority, low socioeconomic status, rural, and/or female students through strategic recruiting and cohort building. Inspired by other universities’ efforts to attract and retain promising students with reduced mathematics preparation, we have integrated support for these students in the program as well. Through these activities, students transition to their first semester at the university with relationships with peers, faculty, and staff that can support the students’ successful transition from high school to college and persistence in their STEM degree program.
The programs described in this paper have existed in different forms since 2011, beginning with a pilot program involving four participants and at one time including as many as 33. To measure the lasting effects of these programs, we surveyed the participants and tracked their academic progress over several years. Preliminary results of these assessment efforts suggest that the program supported students’ success at the university through the development of lasting relationships with peers, faculty, and staff at the university, and overall was a positive experience with lasting effects on the participants.
In addition to the evolution and outcomes of this program, we also describe how the funding model for this program has changed over the years, beginning with an NSF-funded scholarship program and transitioning to being institutionalized and supported through the university budget and private foundation support.
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