Thomas W. Durso
Colorado College

Emily Chan, a social psychologist who studies how prejudice affects academic achievement, brings a research-based approach to supporting the students from underrepresented backgrounds who participate in Colorado College’s Bridge Scholars Program.

Chan, an associate dean for academic programs and strategic initiatives at the Colorado Springs institution, cites 15 years of studies that illustrate the importance of integrating such students into the full collegiate environment.

“There are moments when students might question, ‘Do I belong here? Do they really want me here?’ ” she says. “That sense of belonging is crucial.”

Bridge Scholars is a voluntary, year-long program for first-generation college students and those whose high schools’ advanced course offerings were limited. Students can also enter the program through QuestBridge, the national organization that helps connect exceptional underserved students with colleges.

Bridge Scholars starts prior to the fall semester of a student’s first year with a series of two-week, team-taught interdisciplinary courses. Students also participate in co-curricular and extracurricular activities, and develop relationships with mentors and peers. Throughout their first year, Bridge scholars develop more of a collegiate mindset by engaging in social events, mentor check-ins, faculty panels, advising sessions, a financial literacy workshop, a career tour of Denver and other activities.

A wide variety of faculty, administrators and student peer-mentors within academic affairs and student life contribute to the program. That diversity has helped Bridge scholars perform at a higher level than students not in the program, Chan says.

“Even though this is housed in the academic dean’s office, I have every corner of the campus collaborating on all aspects of it,” Chan says. “That is beautiful, when people are working together and sharing that philosophy together.”

National trends link

  • More than a decade of research shows thatfeeling supported is especially important for students whose college environment is substantiallydifferent from that of their high school.
  • This sense of fitting in encompasses both social belonging and academic belonging, accordingto research.

Want more information on this success program? Email to request a complete copy of the institution’s entry form.