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Transitioning new students into Engineering and Computer Science

October 10, 2014
One dozen students had the chance to start their first year early in a summer bridge program.

Merrimack College’s School of Science and Engineering has recently been awarded a major grant from the National Science Foundation for its project Foundations for Student Success (FS2). For a brief overview of the grant, see the School of Science and Engineering’s page here.

One major objective of FS2 is to increase the retention of engineering and computer science majors at Merrimack College. The team of investigators have worked alongside the Science and Engineering faculty to develop four initiatives to increase retention of the first- and second-year engineering and computer science majors. One of these initiatives is a two-week summer intensive program. The team spearheading the grant proposal found that by using academic and other engaging activities, preparatory programs have effectively closed the gap for high school students entering college.

This program, also known as the Bridge Program, was held for the first time at Merrimack College in August. The aim of the Bridge Program is to prepare incoming first-year students for the college-level curriculum they will encounter, specifically mathematics, as well as to foster a sense of belonging within their major. The students participating in the Bridge Program were guided by upperclassmen serving as peer mentors for the program. All students lived on-campus for two weeks and had an active schedule that combined academic preparation with field trips, competitions, and workshops.

Typically, the mornings consisted of academic preparation. Having the academic sessions and workshops taught by the faculty gave the students the ability to get to know their future professors while reviewing concepts from algebra, trigonometry, and geometry in engineering contexts. The students and faculty would review the material once more in the afternoon to prepare for an online test given the next morning. In the afternoons, the students would also participate in hands-on activities such as a tower building competition. They also got to experience field trips to the Museum of Science, Raytheon, the MIT Museum, and a Boston walking tour. In the evenings, the students would participate in social activities to build comradery among them.

The students who participated in the Bridge Program felt more confident in their academic skills entering their first year. They also felt more comfortable on campus since they built relationships with one another and got to know the campus in the two-week program. Here’s what some of the students had to say:

“Not only was I being supported by the professors and classmates, but also the STEM advisers; Jared, Mike, and Amy too. I felt a community forming where we wanted to see each other succeed and everyone was willing to help each other.”

“Coming to school two weeks early help me transition a lot easier and made making friends easier too.“

“I think this program was a great opportunity for me to make friends, get to know the professors, get used to the work load, and have any doubts about my choice of major removed.”


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