New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
The transition to a graduate program presents numerous challenges as students must navigate a new institution, lifestyle, and culture. Incoming graduate students are confronted with challenges such as finding an advisor, negotiating funding, working in a new research setting, and establishing a record of scholarship, all while successfully completing coursework. Research has shown that this transition can be even more difficult for underrepresented groups (e.g., females, racial/ethnic minorities). These challenges can in turn lead to feelings of isolation that negatively impact these students’ transition to graduate school and ultimately their retention and progress to degree. One approach to addressing these challenges is a bridge program, which typically occurs in the summer before the beginning of the academic year; students attend an abbreviated version of courses they will be taking in the fall, with goals related to acclimation to university culture and familiarity with coursework, resources, and specific elements of graduate student life that are likely to be unfamiliar.
While bridge programs are frequently employed at the undergraduate level, there are fewer examples at the graduate level, especially in engineering. At a large, public, mid-Atlantic university (referred to Public Mid-Atlantic University [PAMU] for this study), current under-represented engineering graduate students identified key areas where graduate students new to the university (i.e., those matriculating from an undergraduate program elsewhere) are disadvantaged and need further support. Through personal reflection and discussion with faculty members, participants identified three key challenges: 1) a lack of coordinated faculty connections and research experiences within faculty members’ labs, including the opportunities to see several different project opportunities and working environments; 2) instructors that assume first year graduate students have been taught fundamental concepts in the same way that matriculating PAMU engineering undergraduates would be taught; and 3) fragmented opportunities to build community with other underrepresented students. To address these challenges, a pilot graduate summer bridge program was designed and implemented in the summer of 2015 for incoming engineering graduate students at PAMU. Academic activities were used to refresh and advance students’ understanding of key disciplinary concepts, and lab rotations were used as a way to create networking opportunities.
This paper describes the program development and subsequent qualitative evaluation findings gathered from participant interviews. During semi-structured interviews, students discussed the extent to which the program addressed the three intended goals – i.e. to 1) increase underrepresented students’ knowledge about university and college resources, 2) provide with an introduction to faculty and current research projects, and 3) create an understanding of foundational concepts and how they are taught. Preliminary findings suggest that through participation in the summer bridge program, students improved their understanding of graduate school course work, created a social and professional network across the college, and perceived a sense of community and support that has aided their transition to graduate school.
Amelink, C. T., & Lutz, B. D., & Karugarama, M. K., & Lesko, J. J. (2016, June), Graduate Summer Bridge Program: Building Community and Preparedness for Success among Engineering Graduate Students Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25419
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