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Building a Summer Bridge Program to Increase Retention and Academic Success for First-year Engineering Students

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 7: The Transition from High School to College

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.300.1 - 26.300.24



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Paper Authors


Caitlin Cairncross University of Portland

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Caitlin is the STEP Academic Success Counselor for the Shiley School of Engineering. Her professional interests include retention, strengths-based advising, self-authorship, and inclusivity and access for underrepresented students.

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Sharon A. Jones P.E. University of Portland

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SHARON A. JONES is Dean of the Shiley School of Engineering at the University of Portland. Her research focuses on ethics and sustainability in terms of civil infrastructure systems. Dr. Jones received a BS in Civil Engineering from Columbia University, and a PhD in Engineering and Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University. She is a licensed professional engineer in California.

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Zulema Naegele University of Portland

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Ms. Naegele is a Doctorate of Education candidate and Fellow in the School of Education and the University of Portland. Her interests are multicultural education, diversity in K-12 and higher education, social justice and equity.

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Tammy VanDeGrift University of Portland

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Dr. Tammy VanDeGrift is the Associate Dean for Engineering and Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Portland. Her research interests include computer science education, pedagogy, and best practices for retention and engagement.

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Building a Summer Bridge Program to Increase Retention and Academic Success in First-Year Engineering StudentsThis paper reports on a grant-funded summer bridge program developed for incoming first-yearengineering students who were not academically prepared to start Calculus 1. The six-week,residential, pre-college program was offered for the first time in the summer of 2014. Theprimary purpose of the program was to help students develop in their math proficiency so theycould begin their freshman year on track toward their engineering or computer science degree.The summer bridge program was developed in conjunction with a multi-year grant-fundedretention program at the School of Engineering at the University of X, a private, Catholicinstitution serving approximately 3700 undergraduate students; of those 3700, approximately700 are engineering students.Program ObjectivesThe program was informed by Social Constructivist Learning Theory, which asserts that learningand development cannot occur outside of social and environmental contexts. To increaseretention and success of first-year engineering students, the summer bridge program wasdesigned to 1) Allow students to enter their freshman year on-track academically and gainexposure to college-level coursework; 2) Provide the information and support necessary toensure a smooth transition into college; 3) Enhance student interest in and commitment to theengineering field; and 4) Help students build community on campus.Program DetailsThere were 240 engineering students who entered the University of X in Fall 2014. Of those 240,42 did not place into Calculus 1, making them eligible for the summer bridge program; 11students participated in the summer bridge program. The entire cost of the program, excludingmeals, was subsidized by the grant, providing access for students with high financial need.During the bridge program, students took Pre-Calculus II and Intro to Theology, allowing thosewho completed both courses to enter their first year one course ahead. In addition to takingclasses, students also participated in site visits to local companies, and attended workshopsintended to introduce students to campus life. Throughout their time in the program, participantslived in the same residence hall and had the support of a peer mentor, who served as an academicand social resource for students.AssessmentThere were three assessments conducted during the summer bridge program: a pre-assessmentsurvey at the beginning of the program, and a post-assessment survey and focus group after theconclusion of the program. Data from the pre-assessment survey demonstrated that moststudents’ expectations were to build fundamental math skills, to learn more about the engineeringfield, and to get acquainted with University of X. Data from the post-assessment survey andfocus group demonstrated that students felt that after completing the program they had improvedin their math and writing skills, learned about the field of engineering, and had been successfullyoriented to college.

Cairncross, C., & Jones, S. A., & Naegele, Z., & VanDeGrift, T. (2015, June), Building a Summer Bridge Program to Increase Retention and Academic Success for First-year Engineering Students Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23639

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015