Engineering Summer Bridge Program prepares 110 first-generation students for semester

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The energy was high in the Bethancourt Ballroom in the Memorial Student Center on the Texas A&M University campus last week as 110 incoming engineering students and their families celebrated the culmination of the Engineering Summer Bridge Program. Hosted by Access and Inclusion and Women in Engineering, the program was designed to bridge the gap from high school to college for first-generation engineering students, instilling a sense of comfort and confidence in participants.

For six weeks the students stay on campus in dorms with peer mentors, allowing them to become acclimated with college life and to make connections with incoming and current students. They also get a head start on their math courses and learn about time management and study skills.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp spoke at the reception, congratulating the students for making the decision to go to college. “You are the most important students on campus,” he said. “What you’re fixin’ to do is change the future of your family forever because 100 years from now the dinner conversation is going to change from ‘Should I go to college’ to ‘Where should I go to college.’”

This sentiment was echoed by Corey Anthony, senior vice president of human resources and chief diversity officer at AT&T. “It’s a major step,” Anthony said. “I can relate to where you all are. I was a first-generation student as well. What you’re doing is changing the cycle for your family, and you have a unique opportunity to do that.” Anthony said the skills these students are obtaining will be highly valuable when they graduate.

“I will tell you from an employer’s perspective, we cannot get enough talent in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) space,” he said. “The world’s marketplace is looking for STEM skill sets.”

AT&T sponsored a cohort of first-generation students for the second year in a row.Joining this year, Zachry Corporation also sponsored a cohort of female students, allowing the Engineering Summer Bridge Program to more than double in size.

Tara Snowden, director of public and government affairs at Zachry Corporation, said that the program required a lot of dedication from people who truly care about first-generation students’ success.

“Today you overcome your fears and doubts and you make a commitment to continue your educational journey,” she said. “You are not alone in this journey. The Summer Bridge Program is only the beginning to a way of life — an Aggie life — that inspires action.”

Shawna Fletcher, director of the Women in Engineering program at Texas A&M, said the Summer Bridge Program helps first-generation women make connections and acclimate to engineering at Texas A&M.

“Not only do they get started on their academics, but this program helps them to experience college life early so they know what to expect,” she said.

Dr. Sonia Garcia, senior director of Access and Inclusion, said the response she’s received from students has been very positive.

“These students are ready for school to start,” she said. “They’re ready to make good grades, and they’re excited to become engineers. That’s what it’s all about — giving these students the tools to put in their tool box.”