Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

Welcoming first-generation students the Summer Bridge way

First-generation college-bound students participate in a five-day program providing an early opportunity to meet with faculty, learn about campus resources, and build community. (Photo by Taylor Matousek '18)

After months of planning, 75 incoming students recently arrived on the University of Redlands campus for the 14th annual Summer Bridge program, dedicated to easing the transition for first-generation college-bound students and/or California Grant recipients. The five-day program provided an early opportunity to meet with faculty, learn about the campus resources, and build community.

After coordinating and implementing this year’s program with the help of three student leaders, I found there was something special about seeing it come together and hearing the gratitude of students who felt the program was worthwhile.

As one Summer Bridge participant stated, “Summer Bridge has allowed me to feel like I’m ready to take on the world!” 

The student leaders—Diana Gonzalez ’19, Christina Lara ’19, and Andrea Zarate ’20, all Summer Bridge alumni—also took a lot away from the experience. “Being a lead definitely felt like a lot of work, especially with the meetings and planning,” Lara said, “but I felt like this program did so much for the first-years coming in—they felt the program changed their lives, and now they want to be mentors, too!”

Leela MadhavaRau, associate dean of campus diversity and inclusion and special advisor to the president, has seen the program grow since its inception in 2004. “Summer Bridge has always been one of the highlights of my year,” she said. “After 14 years, we have the structure down pat so we can concentrate on ensuring that the Bridge students receive an experience that will stand them in good stead for their first six weeks on campus and beyond. 

“It thrills me to see the connections that the students make in their five days on campus, with each other, their peer mentors, as well as faculty and staff,” she continued. “This year, I heard so many students give voice to a variation on the theme ‘I no longer feel so alone. I was scared that everyone but me would have money and parents that attended university. Now I have a circle who understand my experiences. I know I can make it through.’”

In addition to providing information about the University and the resources on campus, Summer Bridge included background on Serrano history and culture. “Native Student Programs appreciates collaborating with First Generation Student Programs on Summer Bridge, especially in a way that reorients students to the area and empowers them to think about their relationship to the land,” commented Native Student Programs Director Heather Torres.

As we emphasized during the event, Summer Bridge conversations and connections do not end at the conclusion of the program; instead, the hope is that students continue to make lasting friendships and engage in difficult conversations as they navigate University of Redlands’ campus and culture over the next few years.