SIU’s virtual Summer Bridge program is a big hit

Each summer, a group of incoming first-year students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale participate in a unique two-week program to help them transition and adjust to college life.

This year proved to be a bit different as 22 future Salukis from across the nation participated in a virtual Saluki Summer Bridge Program. Now in its seventh year, the program that helps students get an early start to college transitioned to an online experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic. TRIO Student Support Services hosts Saluki Summer Bridge, with Renada Greer, assistant dean of students, overseeing the program.

“This is an excellent group of students,” Greer said. “They were very much engaged with the topics. It was different this year, but it was fun.”

Beneficial program

Typically, first-year participating students like Matthew Durham and Amber Koteras would have arrived on campus in late July for an experience that includes non-credit, college-level courses taught by SIU faculty and staff, study skills workshops, study labs and campus resource seminars. This year, however, the virtual program was enhanced with guest speakers, including Chancellor Austin A. Lane, via interactive presentations.

Participants said the virtual experience was eye-opening and beneficial in helping them prepare for college.

Koteras of Nicholasville, Kentucky, fell in love with SIU’s campus during an earlier visit and she is anxious to start in the university’s “phenomenal” architectural studies program. Participating in the Saluki Summer Bridge program “made me feel comfortable about leaving home and about the college experience,” said Koteras, a home-school student who was a bit nervous because of all the upcoming changes and transitions as a college freshman.

“The leadership and social preparation has just been amazing,” Koteras said. “I have already made so many friends. They said at the beginning that many people make lasting friendships through this program and I believe it. Even though it’s been virtual, the communication has been great with students, faculty and staff. And the student leaders are really fun; they’ve given us lots of great insights.”

Durham, from Rockford, has already been on campus as a freshman long-snapper for the Saluki football team, but he found the program to be important. A 2020 graduate of Boylan Catholic High School who plans to major in criminology and psychology, Durham said he jumped at the chance to apply when he heard about the program to “capitalize on the chance to establish connections with some of the faculty and students and help me adjust to college life.”

Learning about yourself and others

The classes focused on a variety of relevant topics. As a part of the program, students also receive a $250 textbook scholarship.

Koteras said her pre-college experience at SIU has already been very insightful and educational. She especially enjoyed doing an inventory of her own life in conjunction with the “Emotionally Intelligent Leadership and Your Success as a College Student and Beyond” class taught by Jennifer Jones-Hall, dean of students.

“It was very eye-opening to learn about my strengths and weaknesses and how I can use them to become an effective leader,” Koteras said.

Durham agreed, noting that the class has given him the ability to look at himself and others through various perspectives, enabling him to better understand the complete picture. He appreciated the opportunity to learn more about cultural diversity, stereotypes, what the Black Lives Matter movement is about, and the importance of keeping an open mind.

“These classes have helped me better understand myself and other people. What I’ve learned applies to very element of life,” Durham said. “By understanding people and conflicting values, prospective and opinions, we can learn to function more effectively as a society and as individuals we can learn to agree to disagree and still be considerate to one another.”

Koteras gained insight in discussing privilege, women’s rights, and access to resources such as health care and how issues interconnect.

Her goal is to attend graduate school in architecture after earning her bachelor’s degree and then start her own architectural firm that focuses on the psychological aspects within the field. Koteras noted that everything involved with architecture, including room shapes and sizes, lighting, wallpaper texture, building design and all other aspects have a psychological impact on people.

She plans to research the topic while at SIU and found her Saluki Summer Bridge courses and the insightful thinking to be an interesting segue toward her future plans.

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