Since 2007, the MSU College of Engineering has run a seven-week intensive summer bridge program for students interested in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and medicine), called the Engineering and Science Success Academy, or ESSA. This program has regularly served 70 students, offering them a chance to connect to resources, understand MSU’s culture, forge living-learning connections, and take additional math, science, and other courses to prepare for their college careers.
In December 2017, Theo Caldwell, assistant dean for student inclusion and diversity in the College of Engineering, and former director of the ESSA, was asked by R. Sekhar Chivukula, associate provost for undergraduate education, to expand the bridge program beyond STEM fields, and to consider offering 6-8 college credits for coursework the academic work completed in the summer bridge programs. In consultation with curriculum specialists in the Colleges of Social Science and Arts & Letters, additional courses were planned to prepare students who might consider careers in the liberal arts or social sciences. A new program was established: SSOCAL (Social Science or College of Arts & Letters).
In order to make the credit-bearing option available, broader collaborations were needed. Aside from colleges that helped sponsor the ESSA, connections were made with the Office of Financial Aid, Residence Education and Housing Services, the Office of Academic Services and Enrollment Management, and more. An option was finalized close to the program enrollment date, but there were several administrative barriers, most notably the cost, which varied from several thousand dollars to $13,000 (without financial aid). It was decided that in 2018, to best serve the students who would benefit most from the program, ESSA and SSOCAL would be offering no credits, but at no cost to the students. Unfortunately, the numbers of student participants decreased, but the current cohort is a hardworking, dedicated group of students: 47 in ESSA, 11 in SSOCAL.
As part of the program, students take 2-3 college preparatory courses, in the areas of Math, Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures, Integrative Arts and Humanities, Biology, Chemistry, or Computer Science. In addition, they learn time management skills, financial literacy, MSU resources on health, wellness, and emotional wellness, and even the MSU fight song. On weekends, they participate in community service, and social, recreational, and cultural activities. Recent activities have included a trip to Cedar Point, a museum day in Detroit, and seeing the Lion King, thanks to the generosity of alumni, corporate sponsors, the Provost, Student Affairs, Drew Scholars, I3, and OCAT.
Regarding the mix of disciplines, Caldwell says, “Your major is not the only determinant of who you get to know.” The ESSA and SSOCAL students get to know a cohort of peers who may have very different career trajectories, but relationships are rich, and supportive communities are built before the fall.
One current student participant, Inglyand Anderson, writes, "I feel as if the ESSA summer program has had a huge impact on my future successes for this upcoming fall and years to come. I’ve been allowed the opportunity to receive insight for future courses, make great connections/friends, and learn the importance of time management and commitment needed in order to be successful in college. I’ve been given great resources to help me as an incoming freshman and I know the campus like the back of my hand. Throughout this program it was not all smooth sailing, but like every ESSA alum reiterates, you have to 'Trust The Process!'"
The plan for 2019 is to more robustly assist incoming students and their families to fill out the prior year’s FAFSA and seek financial aid, and offer 6-8 credits per semester. After a successful pilot year, good things seem to be ahead.