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From Residential to Remote: Adapting Summer Bridge Practices (Millennium Scholars Program)

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2021 CoNECD


Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day

Publication Date

January 24, 2021

Start Date

January 24, 2021

End Date

January 28, 2021

Conference Session

CoNECD Session : Day 2 Slot 8 Technical Session 1

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Submissions

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Paper Authors


Lisa Lim Pennsylvania State University

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Lisa Lim holds a Master of Arts in Higher Education and Student Affairs from New York University. She has been a higher education practitioner for 4 years with her specialties in advising and first-year students. She currently serves as the Program Coordinator for First-Year Students with the Millennium Scholars Program at The Pennsylvania State University.

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At the Millennium Scholars Program at The Pennsylvania State University (University Park), the Summer Bridge experience is required for the incoming cohort of first-year undergraduate students who represent various races/ethnicities. This oral presentation will (1) share the key components and structure of the remote Summer Bridge; (2) data bench-marking the first-year students’ academic progress and sense of belonging compared to past students with a residential Bridge experience; (3) lessons learned and best practices for conducting a remote Summer Bridge; and (4) provide tangible action items that can be replicated across different programs and campuses. The Program’s proven retention and graduation rates (97% and 80%, respectively) can be attributed partly to the academic preparation, sense of belonging, and strong community that is achieved during residential Summer Bridge. The Millennium Scholars Program was started back in 2012 to promote minorities and women in STEM fields who wished to pursue Ph.D. studies, modeled after the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Traditionally, Summer Bridge is held on campus for 6-weeks, where students live in the residence halls with Program Assistants (alumni of the program), take credit-bearing courses (Math and English), engage with campus speakers, participate in professional development workshops, and build a tight-knit community. For the newest cohort (Cohort 8), due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Program pivoted to a 6-week remote experience in Summer 2020 with a condensed residential component directly prior to the start of the Fall semester. The remote format is being delivered via Zoom Video and Canvas (learning platform for course materials and recorded lectures). All costs related to Summer Bridge (tuition, books, tutoring) are covered by the Program. Cohort 8 is comprised of 29 students from across the nation, with the majority of students identifying as underrepresented (41% Black or African American and 38% Hispanic/Latino) and female (62%). The students are pursuing a variety of majors from the College of Engineering, Eberly College of Science, College of Environmental and Mineral Sciences, and the College of Information Sciences and Technology.

At the time of this proposal, Summer Bridge is at the half-way mark. In the first few weeks of Summer Bridge, the successes and challenges of remote Bridge are emerging. For the students, synchronous class instructions are easy for them to attend and watch the recorded lectures after. They have connected in the “24/7 Zoom Room” which is open to students only where they can work on assignments and get to know each other. Early observations show that a long schedule with multiple Zoom sessions has made it significantly harder for students to stay fully engaged for the day. However, the remote environment has made it easier for the students to connect with group chats/texting. Sessions, such as study hall, have been less interactive than in years past but have provided more flexibility and opportunity for faculty to participate. Access to technology was not as challenging as previously predicted prior to the start of Summer Bridge. The Program continuously worked with the University’s IT Department to send laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots to students who experienced technology limitations.

The biggest impact of a remote Summer Bridge was the cost. For the residential bridge, the Program pays for tuition, housing and meals, and engages on academic and recreational excursions throughout the summer. Depending on the size of the incoming first-year cohort, the costs average out to be $425,000 for 6-weeks. For Summer 2020, the estimated costs of Bridge, including tuition, faculty salaries, Program Assistants’ salaries, and speaker fees are approximately $65,000. This stark difference in cost has opened the Program’s eyes to the possibilities of cost-effective ways to expand the Program and ideas on how we can structure different Bridge sessions if we were to experience funding reductions in the future.

The major components of residential Summer Bridge that were adapted to an online environment are: academic coursework, academic support, professional development, exposure to research, and community building. Students took 6 credits (all grades earned are factored into their academic transcripts): math and seminar with a chemistry workshop. Students are assessed by math faculty to determine their previous math experiences, then placed into an appropriate section to prepare students to take Calculus with Analytic Geometry I, Honors (MATH 140H) in the fall semester. The chemistry workshop is aimed to review the first few chapters of Introduction to Chemistry (CHEM 110) which is a required course for the majority of students in the fall semester. Pivoting in-person instruction to remote instruction has proven to be easier than anticipated due to the faculty experiencing remote learning in Spring 2020. Small group work has been facilitated with Zoom’s “Breakout Rooms” feature which has been beneficial to engage students. Further data from students’ attitudes regarding their remote courses are being collected throughout the duration of the program and will be discussed at the presentation.

The Program Assistants (PAs) are recent graduates of the program who play critical roles in academic support, mentorship, and community building during Summer Bridge. They are selected because of their displayed strong academic performance, commitment to the mission of the Program, and are seen as strong leaders by their peers. The PAs attend classes and sessions with the students and provide tutoring during study hall. They serve as the mentor to that week’s student group to guide the group through the introduction of that week’s “Pillar” (one of the Program’s values), the presentation that the students create, and a thank you letter for that week’s Pillar Coach. The PAs have proven to be key resources to the students, often advising and supporting the students with personal and professional development. The casual and most meaningful interactions with the PAs would occur in the residence halls after the programming was finished for the day. However, in the remote environment, the PAs have had to work creatively with Program staff to brainstorm virtual bonding experiences, such as leading presentations and virtual game nights to engage the students outside of the classroom.

Students are introduced to a variety of campus resources and research laboratories over the course of the summer. Campus speakers cover a variety of topics from social justice, mental health resources and awareness, and gender equity. Laboratory tours are also a main component to introduce students to research funded at the University, how research is interdisciplinary, and how they can get involved. Since the Program places a heavy emphasis on students pursuing doctoral studies, early exposure and involvement in research increases the students’ competitiveness into a STEM doctoral program. From the administrative standpoint, finding laboratories at the University equipped to handle our group size in the virtual space was challenging. The Program has had to work with the laboratory directors to create an engaging agenda with small group activities to keep the students engaged for the tour.

At the time of the CoNECD conference, we will have data to present on Cohort 8’s progress in the fall term and how that compares with past cohorts who have experienced a residential bridge. Based on the data, best practices and lessons learned can be better determined at that time.

Lim, L. (2021, January), From Residential to Remote: Adapting Summer Bridge Practices (Millennium Scholars Program) Paper presented at 2021 CoNECD, Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day . 10.18260/1-2--36058

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