Nepantla Summer Bridge eases transition to college for first-generation college students

As part of the Nevada State College (NSC) Nepantla Program, NSC has launched its second Summer Bridge program with a cohort of 22 first-generation college students. The Summer Bridge coursework will span six weeks, with students participating in two courses: foundational math and English composition, based upon individual placement testing.

The NSC Summer Bridge is unique in that students not only have the opportunity to acclimate to college coursework, but they start their college experience with a group of similar students in order to foster peer-to-peer support, said Leila Pazargadi, NSC Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Summer Bridge. We see the students maintaining a support system for each other as they progress in their educational and career goals over the next four years and beyond.

Additional workshops and activities throughout the six-week program link students to faculty and community members, helping to build confidence, leadership skills, and alleviate any fears/uncertainties about starting college. Our objective is for the summer to serve as an introduction to college life that empowers students to start their college career without the feeling that they are on their own or that they may get lost in the crowd, Pazargadi explained.

Other activities in the Summer Bridge include a weekly schedule of community and campus speakers covering topics such as career and professional development, cultural and identity formation workshops, and internal college processes. Students will additionally participate in a field trip to Hoover Dam at the conclusion of the program.

Student participants have told me that they are thankful for the opportunity to not only enhance their academic preparedness, but to also create peer networks and connections with staff that make NSC feel like a second home, said Edith Fernandez, Associate Vice President of Community Engagement and Diversity Initiatives. It is this sense of belongingness, meaningful and positive relationships centered on academic achievement and career preparation, which contributes to student retention.

Participants in the Summer Bridge are 2014 high school graduates from NSC partner schools, including Basic, Rancho, Eldorado, Chaparral, Sunrise Mountain, Western, Del Sol, Global and Las Vegas high schools. All students were required to meet the NSC admissions requirements, in addition to a comprehensive application process for the Nepantla program. Scholarships were provided for each of the Summer Bridge participants by the NSC Foundation.

Following the summer coursework, students will transition into the Nepantla Program First Year Experience (FYE), which will again emphasize a rigorous academic schedule while providing workshops and service learning projects that promote student success and career preparedness. Programs like Nepantla help close the achievement gap between Latino and African American students, as compared to their White counterparts. Fernandez said.

The Nepantla Program carves out an alternative space in higher education for students who are in-between cultures and curriculums, added Nicholas Natividad, NSC Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice and Nepantla Program Director. Nepantla aims to reinterpret and redefine the role of college education by deeply embedding the notion of serving one's community and embracing cultural difference as a place of knowledge and power.

Funded through a Nevada College Challenge Access Grant, the Nepantla Program works with high school educators, students, family members, and administrators to establish a college-bound culture in the community. The faculty-led initiative serves and inspires underserved first-generation college students to explore college as a pathway that leads toward long-term academic and economic success, Natividad added.

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