Bridging the Gap: Donors Support SOU’s Bridge Program

SOU’s Bridge Program makes going to college and earning adegree possible for many students who cannot see higher education in their future. The program, designed to help Oregon students successfully transition to college, is specifically geared for students who are traditionally under-represented in higher education.

“It’s an exceptional program,” said Lyn Hennion, who was one of the Bridge’s earliest supporters. Bridge exists because of research conducted by an SOU professor, which underscored the potential success of students from low-income families, first-generation college students, or situations of extreme trauma. These students demonstrated extraordinary academic talent and drive when provided “wrap-around” services that bolstered their confidence in a variety of ways.

Hennion and her husband, Alex Bellen, are long-time Rogue Valley residents. A retired financial advisor, Hennion was an inaugural member of the university’s Board of Trustees and was drawn to support the Bridge Program the moment she heard about it. “These are promising young people who wouldn’t necessarily see themselves in college, who probably never thought of it,” said Hennion.

Hennion believes a key component of the Bridge Program is student-led mentorship. “The mentors are graduates of the program, so they understand what these students are going through,” she said. After training, Bridge mentors are assigned an average of five students each, and they help guide their mentees through the program. This year, there are 100 freshman Bridge students on campus.

After meeting with several of the students and mentors, Hennion is certain that the first-year Bridge experience sets students up for success. “I hope after the students finish their first year, they not only take comfort in the fact that they successfully completed a year in college, but they are stimulated by the experience throughout their academic careers,” said Hennion.

For Hennion, the Bridge Program is just one more example of what makes SOU so special. “SOU is such a remarkable place. Students often talk about the close relationships they make with each other, the staff, and the faculty,” she said. “In the science programs, for example, the undergrads get access to the same equipment as the graduate students. Of course, all the students, regardless of majors, have easy access to their professors and hands-on learning.”

Hennion said she cannot help but be enthusiastic about SOU’s Bridge Program and its students. “I have met some of the students, and every time, I have been impressed,” she said.