The CSUDH Educational Opportunity Program’s (EOP) Summer Bridge has been helping first-year students transition into college since 1978. After a temporary hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has come roaring back to life this year, with more than 400 incoming Toros participating.
EOP Director Sean James says that after years of virtual learning, “It’s really important to reconnect with our students, get them back on campus, and build community. We wanted to take charge and support the president’s mission and new strategic plan. A big part of that is creating a ‘culture of care,’ developing that sense of belonging and community. We feel that EOP took that charge this summer and really got out there and engaged with our students.”
Summer Bridge helps acclimate incoming EOP students to college life through a six-week mini semester during the summer before their first semester. Students take preparatory English and math courses through CSUDH’s Early Start program, as well as participate in a slate of co-curricular activities designed to ease their transition and help them become part of the Toro family.
When planning for this summer’s activities, the EOP team sought activities that were fun, engaging, and would support their success as students. Each day was given a theme, from Mental Health Mondays to Advisory Thursdays. Fridays were reserved for a fun recreational activity, such as a day at the beach, roller skating, bowling, hiking, and movies. “We’ve been doing a lot of cool things,” says James. “Our whole goal was getting back to basics after the pandemic and giving students lots of different ways to connect.”
The student response has been very positive. “Attending the Summer Bridge program is probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life,” says Cesar Alejandro Becerra Jr., an incoming first-year student. “I not only got a head start on my classes, but I got to make connections with lots of people on campus. I’m now very comfortable calling CSUDH my second home.”
Making Peer-to-Peer Connections
One of the most important aspects of Summer Bridge is the Peer Mentor program. Peer Mentors are current CSUDH students who offer their help and wisdom to the next generation of Toros–not just during Summer Bridge, but throughout the year. Each Peer Mentor works with about 50 students, helping them navigate the inevitable hurdles they’ll face during their first year on campus.
After a detailed selection process, Peer Mentors attend a few weeks of training sessions before meeting the incoming Toros. “We focus a lot on relationship building, emotional intelligence, and other aspects of communication, because that’s what our incoming students need,” says Daniela Choto, EOP office coordinator. “If our representatives are able to provide that, it’s more welcoming. Our motivation is to make connections, and we feel that first-year students can really relate to our mentors.”
“I wanted to help students find the path to their career or help them get back on track,” says Peer Mentor David Sandoval, a graduate student in pre-physical therapy. “I’ve been in their shoes, so I know the sacrifices, the challenges, and the dedication it takes to stay on track. I don’t want anybody to go through the struggles I went through.”
For Sandoval, the best part of being a Peer Mentor is watching the students succeed. “Nothing can ever beat that feeling,” he says. “They start off shy, afraid, not knowing what they want to do in college. After Summer Bridge, they’re eager to take their classes, create clubs, or be involved on campus. Just hearing them say ‘Thank you’ for helping is the best feeling.”
Yannet Martinez, a senior Sociology major, has seen the program from both sides. She participated in Summer Bridge as an incoming student, and now helps plan the events as a student assistant in the EOP office. “As a first-year student, it was a super-engaging program that gave me the chance to meet new students from all over,” she says. “Now, I’m helping plan the activities, and it’s great to see such exponential growth in the students since the beginning of the summer. I’m proud and very happy to be a part of it.”
“I think our program is successful because we really focus on complete care for our students,” says James. “They get a head start on their courses, get familiar with the campus, and learn about the resources we have here. But we believe building community and a sense of belonging is most important first. So that’s what we really aim to do with a lot of our support services–help them see themselves in our staff and our mentors.”
“Many of these incoming students have been through a lot,” he adds. “We want to show them that they still have the potential to make it. ‘You can do it!’ That’s the mission that we’ve taken on. Our goal is that CSUDH provides great support from the very beginning of your college career.”
Words of Encouragement