The Nevada State College Summer Bridge program launched this year to help first-generation and underrepresented college students transition into postsecondary education.
“Our goal is to empower typically underserved individuals to take control of their education and career experiences,” said Nicholas Natividad, an assistant professor at Nevada State College.
The program wrapped up its first cohort of 23 students Aug. 9, preparing them for their first fall semester of college.
“When I came into the orientation, I welcomed the students as the Class of 2017,” said Leila Pazargadi, an assistant professor at Nevada State College and the director of the summer bridge program.
Even if it takes students an extra year, Pazargadi wants the idea to soak in that each person can graduate.
The summer bridge was designed specifically to reach out to students who were first-generation or came from underrepresented backgrounds, many of whom are ethnic minorities.
According to the 2011 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, educational attainment for ethnic minorities in Nevada is low — 46 percent of African Americans, 43 percent of Native Americans and 74 percent of Hispanics have no experience with postsecondary education.
Natividad, who is also the director of the Nepantla Program, which works with high schools to establish a college-bound mentality in the surrounding community, said there are barriers that prevent some students from succeeding in college.
“It’s something people don’t want to talk about,” he said. “I don’t think even nationwide (college campuses) reflect the growing population changing and what’s taking place.”
Because of those barriers, programs such as the NSC Summer Bridge are needed, he added.
Pazargadi participated in a summer bridge program when she worked at the University of California, Los Angeles.
When she began working at Nevada State College, she teamed up with Natividad to create the first summer bridge program this year. Students were selected from Basic, Rancho, Eldorado, Chaparral and Sunrise Mountain high schools.
Scholarships were provided to the students by the NSC Foundation.
Along with external barriers that keep underserved populations from postsecondary education, Natividad also has had to help students face potential cultural struggles.
For some students, their families depend on them to work and help support the household, which had them entering the workforce after graduation instead of attending college.
“We have to show them the long-term benefits of not working now,” Natividad said.
Nevada high school graduates earn an average of $30,570 while college graduates earn $42,970, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Despite possible familial pressures, Pazargadi said some of her students have opted into the program to focus on the benefits of education.
During the six-week program, students took math and English courses, giving them their first taste of college life.
“The first paper was rough, of course,” Pazargadi said. “The students were given the option to rewrite. They did a really great job and showed their thirst and determination.”
Along with courses, students attended workshops to learn about identity formation, career development and social justice topics. Instructors were also there to help with financial aid forms and registering for fall classes.
Natividad and Pazargadi also provide mentorship to the students.
One beneficiary of the program was 18-year-old Jennifer Gonzales, a recent Sunrise Mountain High School graduate who applied to NSC and many other colleges.
“I got a phone call that I was selected to be in the bridge program, and I just went for it,” she said. “I think (if I didn’t have the program) I would have been nervous this whole summer thinking about college. I would be a disaster coming the first day without knowing anything.”
Pazargadi has seen a change in all the students.
“We get students who come in not knowing anything about college,” she said. “Now they are talking about Ph.D.s.”
Even though the summer bridge program ended, Natividad said students will transition to the Nepantla Program First Year Experience.
“I don’t think there is anything like it,” Pazargadi said.
Natividad added that class spots have been saved to make sure students who started together in the summer program can continue to be together in the same environment.
He hopes the program has a cyclical effect, allowing those who finished the program to become mentors to incoming students.
Gonzales, who plans to study secondary education, is ready to be a mentor.
“It’s going to hit you hard,” she said. “It’s a lot of work. But you can succeed.”
For more information about the summer bridge program or the Nepantla Program, call 702-992-2680 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at email@example.com or 702-387-5201.