Thomas W. Durso
Northwood University

Admitting one needs a summer bridge program to ease the transition from high school to college is not typically a point of pride.

But incoming students who participate in the Educational Success Program (ESP) at Northwood University in Michigan walk across campus with their heads held high, says Kristin Stehouwer, executive vice president, chief operating officer and chief academic officer. “Our students are absolutely proud of it. It’s something that’s part of their identity here.”

ESP is a 12-day immersion for incoming Northwood students who have been admitted on a probationary basis. Living on campus, they take developmental mathematics and English classes and engage in a variety of co-curricular activities that help them adjust to college life, meet academic expectations, and acclimate themselves to their new campus and community.

Peer mentors—many of them prior ESP participants—live in residence halls with the incoming students to support them throughout their first year at Northwood.

“The mentors are part of that ‘special sauce’ in terms of what makes this such an effective program,” says Stehouwer. “Many of them were in the shoes of the students who are in the Educational Success Program. They understand what the adjustment is like—to college life, to Northwood University, to the Midland, Michigan, community.”

Peer mentors aren’t the only helpers. ESP students also have the chance to get accustomed to public speaking by introducing themselves to the university’s president and other senior officials, including Stehouwer, at a gathering. At the conclusion of the program, another such meeting is arranged. Their remarks serve more than a celebratory purpose.

“We believe in hands-on and applied learning,” says Stehouwer. “When they get up and speak publicly, they’re practicing those skills they’ve been working on.”

Inside the Program

  • Initially, ESP was voluntary for students admitted on probation; retention rates for participants were so high, the university began requiring participation of all students admitted on probation.
  • A former Educational Success Program student created a public Facebook group to improve communication with current and past participants.