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MC begins Bridge to Success program

Barry McNamara
One of the participants in Monmouth College’s new Bridge to Success program makes a copy of her fingerprint during the forensics portion of the intensive three-week session.
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Orientation programs have become a routine experience at colleges for decades now. But starting Aug. 6, Monmouth College implemented a new type of orientation program, titled Bridge to Success.
Twenty students are getting a head start on their higher education experience through the bridge program, which is listed as “College 101” in the course catalog.
“The goal of the bridge program is to assist students in transitioning from a high school approach to learning to a first-year college approach,” explained Frank Gersich, the associate dean of academic affairs in charge of the program. “Over the past couple of years, we have had students who commented that they focused on learning to live in a small town, making new friends and fitting into the campus community instead of focusing on the academic experience, because they perceived it to be similar to high school. One of the decisions early in the planning process was to have an intensive academic experience to enable students to understand the expectations of faculty in a first-year college course.”
“These students need to feel comfortable with college before college starts,” added English professor Mark Willhardt, who is one of four MC faculty members teaching the course.
Willhardt was the first “primary teacher,” helping the students navigate Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon.” He has passed on the baton to associate professor of chemistry Audra Sostarecz, who is emphasizing the sciences with a crime lab exercise. Assistant professor of history Fred Witzig will spend four class days teaching from Simon Schama’s non-fiction whodunit “Dead Certainties,” and assistant professor of political economy and commerce Wendi Bolon will wrap up the three-week session with an emphasis on quantitative analysis, including working with Excel spreadsheets.
“Our goal is to give them a taste for these disciplines and for these skills,” said Willhardt.
The four professors will be in the classroom together, and they will also work in smaller groups with five students apiece, helping them learn how to set and meet goals and getting them used to participating in group discussions.
Although “College 101” has been in session for just one week, Willhardt said he could already see a difference.
“The enthusiasm is there,” he said. “They really want to succeed. They’re just not sure how to do that yet. But class participation is rising, and they’re getting acclimated and feeling more comfortable.”
The bridge program also features outside-the-classroom experiences, with highlights including a trip to the Illinois State Fair and a cookout at one of the professor’s homes.
In addition to College 101, students will be attending programs on a variety of topics to assist their transition. MC’s primary staff members involved in planning and developing the programs are teaching and learning coordinator Mishelle Banas; Autumn Scott, director of student success; and Ruby Pentsil-Bukari, director of intercultural life.
“By the end of the year-long transition program, the student participants should be prepared to engage in sophomore-level academic work,” said Gersich. “They should understand their own academic strengths and deficits and have confidence in their ability to advance academically. They should also be able to navigate the college’s academic and social support resources and advocate for themselves when they need clarification of a problem or assignment, or other form of help.”
“These students have great potential, and with three weeks of intensive instruction in academic skills, they can begin to thrive here,” concluded Willhardt.