The SOU Bridge Program
Building Community & Resiliency for Underrepresented Students
The Bridge Program
The writer and teacher bell hooks wrote that “…education as the practice of freedom affirms healthy self-esteem in students as it promotes their capacity to be aware and live consciously,” which relates beautifully to SOU’s mission of preparing students to become engaged citizens in our democracy. The SOU Bridge program does just this by providing resources to underrepresented students so they can learn how to create successful lives of purpose.
The Bridge program offers a unique first-year experience and is at the forefront of the movement to support underrepresented students. The program embraces creativity and innovation by offering peer mentoring, academic resources, and leadership training. Bridge students who complete their first year in the program can go on to act as mentors for future students, providing another bridge of support for underrepresented students.
By the Numbers
The Bridge program is serving an expanded number of students in the 2022 and 2023 fiscal year, from 83 enrolled in 2021 to 103 enrolled in 2022 with 58% of these as first-generation students. In addition, 218 Bridge students are enrolled for the winter 2023 term, and 21 seniors are on track for graduation. Since 2018 alone, there has been an 86% increase in graduating Bridge students.
SOU was one of the first in the state to adopt the Bridge program. With its smaller size, the program has the ability to develop strong connections with students that bigger schools struggle to make, effectively making this an exceptional model for colleges to support students in overcoming barriers.
Bernice Petit is a Senior at SOU double majoring in Chemistry and Criminal Justice with a minor in Biology and Psychology. She came to SOU from Oakridge High School outside of Eugene where she was valedictorian of her graduating class. The Bridge Program has given Bernice the resources she’s needed to succeed in academic life and by participating, she has also found community, friendship, connection, and understanding with her first-year cohort of peers.
Since entering the Bridge program, Bernice has gone on to become a Master Mentor with the program, taking on five mentees who she mentors when college grows challenging. She meets with them regularly and offers reassurance and inspiration as needed.
Bernice hit a very difficult part of her academic career when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. She was close to quitting in her sophomore year, but the Bridge program helped her by providing access to important campus resources and meaningful emotional support that kept her in school and focused on her academics. Bernice says, “I am thankful every day for the Bridge program. When you come to college, you may not have the backing or support in your corner. The Bridge program gave me that. I was able to pay for my entire college career through scholarships because of the tips and tricks I learned from the Bridge program.”
“The Bridge program encouraged me to grow in all my skills and gave me resources, personal and academic, when I needed them most.”
Bernice believes that all of the skills she’s learned as part of the Bridge program will translate to the real world. She emphasizes, “The staff listen. They inspire students. They offer encouragement and always do what’s best for the students.”
Danielle Hammer, Director of the Bridge program, says, “It’s about building new traditions and helping students with college readiness, community, and leadership. The mentors are so important—their level of dedication to each other is admirable.”
Dedication is one word to describe what Bernice brings to her mentoring. Through her own initiative, she has become an incredible inspiration to other Bridge students. Bernice says, “As a mentor, I provide encouragement and support to first year students and help them with resumes and essays. I want to see them grow and encourage them to succeed, like I did.”
She plans on taking these leadership and academic skills and applying them to medical school. She has high ambitions of becoming a Forensic Medical Examiner and would love to work for the state or county.
Building New Relationships
Chloe Fiveash is a third year Biochemistry major with a minor in Biology. When she was at Crater Lake High School, she was without a home and couch surfing while finishing high school. That’s when a Guidance Counselor directed her to the Bridge program, and ultimately, led her to SOU. As a first-generation student without access to resources, the Bridge program helped Chloe make sure her financial aid was in place so that she could focus on her academic studies and transition to college life.
Chloe wanted to come to SOU because of the smaller campus size, and because of this, she was able to establish close relationships with Bridge instructors to help her find opportunities for academic advancement. She also felt less alone because of the community she found in Bridge. Chloe is now a mentor in the program as well as a McNair Scholar. Deb Brown, Co-Director of the Bridge program, says about their role in guiding the students, “It’s a privilege to work with Bridge students. We watch as they become empowered. A sense of belonging is a key component of the program.”
Chloe now works in the Government Relations office, where she drafted a bill that, recently passed, will commemorate and celebrate SOU’s 150th anniversary, and says, “I got that job because of my experience in the Bridge Program. It’s given me so much opportunity that I don’t think I would have had otherwise.”
Chloe plans to go on to get her PhD and work in medicine, and because of her McNair Scholar status and the Bridge program support, she has the resources she needs to move toward accomplishing these extraordinary goals.
“I can positively say that the Bridge program has impacted my life in ways that I don’t think would have happened without it. I don’t know if my life would be the same.”
Inspired to give? Support Bridge students directly here.