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Do Students In Summer Bridge Programs Successfully Improve Math Placement And Persist? A Meta Analysis.

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Bridging and Freshman Programs

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

13.447.1 - 13.447.8



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Paper Authors


Christopher Papadopoulos

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Chris Papadopoulos earned BS degrees in Civil Engineering and Mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University, and a PhD in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, Cornell University. He previously served on the faculty of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he is currently a research associate, grant writer, lecturer, and director of educational programs. His research interests include biomechanics, nonlinear structural mechanics, computational mechanics, engineering education, and engineering ethics. He is an active member of American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE).

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John Reisel University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

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John R. Reisel is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM.) He serves as Director of the Combustion Diagnostics Lab, Associate Director of the Center for Alternative Fuels, and co-Director of the Energy Conversion Efficiency Lab. His research efforts focus on combustion and energy utilization. Dr. Reisel was a 2005 recipient of the UWM Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award, the 2000 UWM-College of Engineering and Applied Science Outstanding Teaching Award, and a 1998 recipient of the SAE Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award. Dr. Reisel is a member of ASEE, ASME, the Combustion Institute, and SAE. Dr. Reisel received his B.M.E. degree from Villanova University in 1989, his M.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University in 1991, and his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University in 1994.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Do Students in Summer Bridge Programs Successfully Improve Math Placement and Persist? A Meta-Analysis.

In attempting to learn more about the efficacy of summer bridge programs, we discovered a general dearth of relevant performance data in the literature. We identified and examined 12 engineering summer bridge programs that serve new freshmen whose math placement is at or below pre-calculus, and for which meaningful student performance data has been published. The data that we compiled suggests that bridge programs are very successful in helping students to advance in math placement by at least one level. Less clear is whether bridge students outperform control group students in the years beyond the bridge program (as measured by retention, graduation, and grades), but some evidence suggests that this is the case.

1. Introduction

New freshmen in many engineering programs matriculate with math placement below calculus. Many of these freshmen have difficulty with first year math courses due to inadequate math preparation, poor academic skills, lack of interest (particularly when introductory math is divorced from engineering applications), and other factors. The students’ difficulty in math often results in a pattern of taking other courses out of sequence and related academic problems.

At least two principal approaches are commonly used to address these issues. One approach is to rearrange the curriculum to include more engineering content in the early years, and delay some math courses until students have more maturity and buy-in with the program. Another approach is to provide summer instruction during which students can improve their math placement hopefully gain greater understanding of fundamental concepts.

While we see merit in both approaches, we focus here on the latter approach of the summer bridge program. This is largely motivated by circumstance at UW-Milwaukee, where we teach; academic placement of new students is math-driven (and will be so for the foreseeable future), and most of our students – nearly 70% – matriculate with math placement below calculus12. Similar circumstances exist at many other schools as well.

To respond to our needs, our College of Engineering & Applied Science (CEAS) instituted a summer bridge program during Summer 2007 to help new freshmen engineering students improve their math placement, study skills, and acculturation to college life. The CEAS bridge program serves students whose math placement is below pre-calculus (i.e. students who are not yet eligible to take College Algebra or Trigonometry). Students at this level comprise approximately 35% of the entering freshman cohort in CEAS. We note that many students in the bridge program have already taken prerequisites for pre-calculus or even pre-calculus in high school, but due to their scores on the UW System Math Placement Test, these students are not eligible to enroll in pre-calculus in CEAS.

The current format of the bridge program is very basic, and is primarily focused on delivering instruction in pre-calculus. The program is free of charge, lasts 4 weeks, and culminates in the retaking of the Math Placement Test. No credit hours are earned through the bridge program.

Papadopoulos, C., & Reisel, J. (2008, June), Do Students In Summer Bridge Programs Successfully Improve Math Placement And Persist? A Meta Analysis. Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3956

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