In a pre-COVID world, over three hundred newly admitted University of Michigan students would have packed their bags and headed to Ann Arbor this July for an early opportunity to acclimate to campus in the Comprehensive Studies Program’s (CSP) Summer Bridge Scholars and CSP Summer programs. Instead, they found themselves at home completing online surveys about their technology needs and registering for online orientation. Like other spring and summer offerings that went ahead at U-M, this year’s Summer Bridge was completely reengineered—in a matter of months—into a remote, online experience. 

Summer Bridge has traditionally improved success outcomes for its scholars by welcoming them onto campus, and into the U-M community, early. The program eases the transition from high school to college during these summer weeks by preparing them for the rigor of undergraduate academics at Michigan through intimately-sized courses that hone writing and math proficiency, introduce time management and test-taking strategies, and improve critical thinking skills. During Summer Bridge, students benefit from personalized academic advising and participate in community-building events to foster an inclusive and supportive peer network.

A Summer Unlike Any Other

When CSP’s new director Kierra Trotter took the helm this winter, she couldn’t have imagined that she’d be marking CSP's signature program’s 45th year by reinventing its delivery to help students acclimate to college, from home. It’s a big shift.

Trotter says the need for Summer Bridge and continued support from CSP is not diminished in the current remote learning environment—in fact, it’s greater. The program’s cohorts are largely composed of students from some of the most vulnerable populations in the COVID-19 crisis—those who are low income, who are the first in their families to enroll in college, and those who attended under-resourced urban and rural high schools. 

Trotter spoke about virtual Summer Bridge and the heightened need for CSP support when she joined Dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) Anne Curzan and LSA Dean for Undergraduate Education Tim McKay for a recent discussion about redefining success in undergraduate education

“COVID-19 has not only shined a light on social inequities in the United States, it has exacerbated these inequities. Many of our students in CSP will be disproportionately affected by COVID-19. 44% of CSP students are from low-income households,” noted Trotter. The pandemic is affecting households with lower socioeconomic status (SES) in multiple ways, including job loss, less access to healthcare, and food and housing insecurity.

“Summer Bridge students are the top students in their schools,” said Trotter. “Like all Michigan students, they're incredibly intelligent. They have a lot of grit. But COVID-19 challenges their sense of belonging at a place like Michigan.”

The CSP community of students is part of a critical population who reflect the values and priorities of inclusivity and access in LSA. When it comes to ensuring these students succeed at U-M, there is a lot at stake. The change in the program’s format, from on-campus to at-home, has exposed considerable additional—and immediate—need.

“There is less margin for error for students with limited financial resources. For example, if they break their laptop, can they easily buy a new one? The answer is no.” Trotter said. “In fact, we learned that approximately thirty percent of this year’s Summer Bridge students had limited access to a home computer and at least twenty-seven percent had either unreliable or no access to high speed internet. Unlimited access to reliable technology—including laptops, high-speed internet, and headsets—was necessary for engaging with our high-touch online coursework and programming, so we worked with students, the Office of Enrollment Management, and LSA Technology Services to provide them with individualized technology solutions.”

Previous Summer Bridge cohorts enjoyed the opportunity to bond with one another during their summers on campus, photo taken prior to 2020.

Beyond Summer

Summer Bridge students remain part of the CSP community throughout their undergraduate experience at Michigan; CSP faculty and staff support over 3,100 students each year through course instruction, academic advising, tutoring, and mentoring. CSP anticipates that the increased scope of student need will stretch into the 2020-21 fall and winter semesters, including, for example, additional demand for advising, mentoring, and tutoring, development of new and expanded online course offerings, and social programming—even support for extended periods of mandatory online learning. 

Trotter worked closely with CSP faculty and staff, as well as Tim McKay and the Division of Undergraduate Education to design this summer’s virtual Summer Bridge program. CSP plans to draw from that process and provide more supplemental instruction this fall than it normally would, as students will take many of their required introductory classes online. Trotter is hoping that CSP will be able to offer even smaller sections than usual so that instructors are able to dedicate the same level of one-on-one time and attention to students as they did during Summer Bridge.

“It's our first goal in this coming year to make sure that all the students who are part of the LSA community thrive during this year in these most difficult of circumstances,” said McKay. “One of the keys to that is making sure that all of our students are fully supported during this period. CSP is a great example of a program that can support its students through the entire four years that they're present on campus.”

In order to support the urgent needs of CSP students, LSA has established the CSP Emergency Fund (336846). Expendable gifts of any size will help cover the costs associated with hybrid and online learning and to support CSP students throughout the 2020-21 academic year. Gifts to the CSP Emergency Fund, as well as the Comprehensive Studies Strategic Fund (308498), will enable CSP to effectively meet these and other needs that emerge as fallout of the pandemic.