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BRIDGE Program Leverages Freshman Year

Forty teenagers have willingly committed five precious summer weeks to beginning their engineering studies on the UConn campus as part of a unique residential readiness program designed to prepare incoming students for the freshman-year experience. The program is called BRIDGE, and it is intended to prime incoming students for the engineering curriculum through preliminary coursework in core mathematics, chemistry, physics and computer concepts. BRIDGE 2007 began July 9 and concludes August 10.

Admission is limited to qualifying students who have applied or been admitted to the UConn School of Engineering. BRIDGE specifically targets students who are members of groups traditionally underrepresented among the nation’s engineers, including women, African Americans, Hispanics, Puerto Ricans and Native Americans. The School of Engineering has actively sought to enhance the diversity of its student and faculty populations during the last decade, through a variety of targeted outreach, recruiting, retention, and scholarship programs. BRIDGE is a crucial component of this effort and is overseen by Engineering Diversity Program director Kevin McLaughlin and Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education Marty Wood, with support from Kimberly Altiery, MaryAnn Ruud and Anna Warner.

Each BRIDGE day begins with classroom instruction in chemistry, computer programming, calculus and physics. Evenings are reserved for scheduled group study sessions, during which teachers, tutors and other BRIDGE students discuss homework problems. Students also complete practice tests and engage in team exercises intended to improve their group problem solving skills – an important part of the undergraduate experience and engineering practice. 

Other activities include off-campus site visits to a selection of top regional companies. Last week, the students toured the Anheuser-Busch plant in Merrimack, NH, where they learned about such engineering processes as fermentation, mixing, filtration, quality testing, bottling, refrigeration and distribution. In coming weeks, they will visit jet engine giant Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford; the Millstone nuclear power plant in Waterford, CT; and home and personal care products manufacturer Unilever.

BRIDGE 2007 tutor Ricardo K. Lewis (Biomedical Engineering, ’10), who participated in the BRIDGE 2006 program as an incoming student, said, “The BRIDGE program was highly effective in terms of boosting my confidence in engineering and getting ready for college life. I got a semester’s worth of education in calculus, chemistry, physics, computing and went on numerous field trips. Besides that, I was able to get used to the surroundings at UConn and made many friends.”

Participating students enjoy complementary housing in one of UConn’s student dormitories, weekly meals, tuition and books. Social, recreational and cultural activities are integrated into the five-week program. After successfully completing BRIDGE, students may qualify for either a stipend of up to $800 or one of several generous, renewable scholarships of up to $2,000 per year.

 
Melissa Carserino (Wolcott High School ’07) and Anthony Kwentoh (North Haven High School ’07) are two students participating in BRIDGE 2007. They shared some insights regarding their first seven days in the BRIDGE program: 

“The best experience so far has been getting to know the people who we’ll share classes with during our four years here,” said Melissa. Anthony agreed that making friends has been a rewarding aspect and added “building my endurance, figuring out how to balance the commitments of classes with personal time, and getting to know campus” as valuable lessons.

Both students said they expect BRIDGE will provide them a good start to their college experience. Anthony said he hopes to gain a better understanding of courses such as physics and chemistry, which will be critical to the engineering curricula. “It’s also interesting to see the different teaching styles,” he said.

The biggest challenge for Melissa and Anthony has been learning time management skills. Melissa said “The first week was bad. We didn’t realize how long the homework would take, and we ended up doing it at 3:00 in the morning. But we’re getting better now.”

“I would recommend BRIDGE to anyone interested in engineering. It’s very helpful and provides a jump start on the challenges we’ll face as freshmen,” Anthony concluded.