As an incoming first-year student, Joanna Perez ’24 participated in St. Olaf College’s Summer Bridge Program — a free, for-credit summer session that provides highly motivated students with a mix of academic and social activities before they begin their first year of college.
“The Summer Bridge Program has created such a beautiful community that everyone can come back to,” she says. And people do come back — Perez benefitted so much from the program that she has served as a mentor to other Summer Bridge students for the past two years.
This fall she shared her experience with reporter Colleen Flaherty for an Inside Higher Ed article about summer bridge programs, which also featured insight from St. Olaf Student Support Services Director Brian Greening. Perez followed that up by participating in an Inside Higher Ed webcast to share additional perspectives about the college experience.
Summer Bridge provides an “on-ramp” for first-generation, low-income, and other underrepresented students to set them up for success at St. Olaf. Students in the program take a science course together and bond with other participants through workshops, advising, and social activities such as trips to the Guthrie Theater and the Mall of America. Students are mentored by St. Olaf sophomores, juniors, and seniors who guide the new students through their first weeks on the Hill.
“I’ve gotten to make a lot of new connections through not only the Summer Bridge Program but also the associated links that it has to the campus community and the college as a whole,” Perez, who is majoring in vocal performance with a concentration in Latin American Studies, told Inside Higher Ed. “I really thrived because of the stepping-stones that I had in Summer Bridge.”
“I’ve gotten to make a lot of new connections through not only the Summer Bridge Program, but also the associated links that it has to the campus community and the college as a whole. I really thrived because of the stepping-stones that I had in Summer Bridge.”
Joanna Perez ’24
The Summer Bridge Program is a part of St. Olaf’s Student Support Services (SSS), which is one of three TRIO programs originally funded under the Higher Education Act of 1965. SSS helps over 180 St. Olaf students overcome class, social, and cultural barriers each year.
“In providing this robust onboarding experience for our low-income, first-gen students, we see Summer Bridge as a gateway for success,” Greening told Inside Higher Ed.
Perez was also featured in an Inside Higher Ed webcast to discuss findings from a recent Student Voice Survey. The results included responses from 3,000 students from 174 institutions who were asked about college orientations, campus involvement, and the role of technology in higher education.
During the panel, Perez shared how the Summer Bridge Program made the rest of college easier. “Summer Bridge was more challenging than the rest of my college career,” she says. “The program helped to challenge and prepare us for the rest of college.”
Plus, the Student Voice survey confirmed that Perez’s experience is not an anomaly: 86 percent of Summer Bridge alumni nationwide say their orientation experience was “good” or “excellent.” What’s behind this experience? Facilitators like Greening and mentors like Perez.