Summer bridge program helps first-year engineering students find success
A summer transition program for incoming Vanderbilt freshmen is helping them attain success in the School of Engineering, and beyond.
This was the second year of the Fall Early Start Transition (FEST) I V A L program that took place July 6-August 3. Thirty students were invited to participate in the all-expense paid program that provided each of them with a $1,500 stipend at the end of the four weeks.
Many of the students are the first to attend college in their families and have a high or medium level of financial need. The program includes interventions, such as early review of STEM coursework (introductory chemistry and calculus), identifying as an engineer, and professional development skills, like time management, prioritization, and effective study habits.
Students also will work with academic counselors and peer facilitators who will help them develop a study schedule for the fall semester as well as make them aware of campus resources such as STEM tutoring. But most important, the program seeks to build a network of social and community support, so students know where to turn in moments of stress, said Julianne Vernon, associate dean for academic success.
“The main intention is to give students who have little to no exposure to college a safe place to form a community to transition to college courses and college life,” said Vernon. “I hope when they complete the first year they know where and whom to ask for help when they need it. They have a group of peers they can go to for help or for a safe space to relax.”
Esteban Zamora of Houston, Texas, was a participant in this year’s program and said it is needed because “college life is not the same as high school.”
“The program has helped us get the gist of what college life is like,” said Zamora, who plans to major in electrical and computer engineering. “It’s been great.”
Michael Carroll was in the inaugural program and she said so far it is the “best thing I have participated in at Vanderbilt.”
“When I came back to campus for fall semester, I was greeted by the friendly faces of the other program participants who are still some of my closest friends on campus,” said Carroll, now a second year double major in chemical engineering and biomedical engineering.
Carroll added, “The bridge program also focused on professional development, where we were given talks by alumni, met deans in the School of Engineering, and had workshops with important offices like financial aid, the career center, and the student life center. These talks helped me develop my goals for my freshman year, gave me access to tools and opportunities, and I met some of my greatest mentors.”
Rashi Gupta, a biomedical engineering major, was also in FEST last year and was a mentor in this year’s program. She hopes her experience will benefit the newbies.
“Vanderbilt has countless resources for entering freshmen, but sometimes the sheer multitude can make it hard to know who and where to go for help when you need it,” said Gupta. “My main priority is to be a central resource for the students to come to and be able to point them to the things they need.”
While the main objective of the program is to help new students find success in the School of Engineering, Vernon hopes what they learn will benefit them when they graduate and enter the real-world and workforce.
“We hope that our students will continue to find success after they graduate,” she said. “In today’s global job market, students need to utilize all the tools they have to be competitive, and we believe our program helps prepare them for challenges they will face.”
Former FEST participant Michael Davis agreed. He said one of his takeaways from the program that will stay with him is being sure to make time for the things you enjoy doing, which involves good time management.
“It’s important to work the things you like doing into your busy schedule as non-negotiables,” said Davis. “We learned it’s an effective way to avoid burnout when you have hefty tasks you may encounter in the workforce.”
Lana Hefner is an academic and educational support program coordinator in the school’s Office of Academic Services, and she oversees infrastructure setup of FEST, such as housing, dining, transportation, social events, and logistics. She said working with students in the program is rewarding.
“We have the privilege of being their first introduction to Vanderbilt and to college life; to see the world through their eyes as they start this journey,” said Hefner. “We also keep in touch with them after the program to offer help and guidance and remind them that they have this community to support them.”
Seed money to start the FEST program was provided by the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, and a gift from alum Calvin Schmidt, BE’90, allowed Vernon to increase enrollment for the 2023 cohort. The Foundation also established the A. James Clark Scholars Program at the School of Engineering for 10 talented first-generation and underrepresented students entering the school each year.
Last fall, the School of Engineering hit a record enrollment of 1,473 undergraduates, with 50.1% of first-year engineering undergraduates being women. In the case of underrepresented minorities, they make up 22.9% of first-year engineering undergraduates.
Contact: Lucas Johnson, email@example.com