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St. John's College Builds a Bridge for First-gen Students

Nanette Elizabeth Phillips, St. John's College / The Center / October 13, 2021

St. John's College is a very small (no, really: 400 students!) liberal arts school nestled in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Through close engagement with the works of some of the world’s most influential writers and thinkers—from Homer, Plato, and Euclid to Douglass, Einstein, and Woolf—undergraduate and graduate students at St. John’s College grapple with fundamental questions that confront us as human beings.

As they participate in lively discussions and throw themselves into the activity of translating, writing, demonstrating, conducting experiments, and analyzing musical compositions, St. John’s students learn to speak articulately, read attentively, reason effectively, and think creatively. Tracing the steps of these thinkers from antiquity to modernity, students engage with original texts as they articulate the mechanics of the universe, record the rise and ruin of empires, and chart the mechanics of the stars. Sounds like a lot, huh? Well, it is; any Johnnie will say so. However, because of exactly that, this past year, St. John’s launched the Pritzker Bridge Scholars Program–recognizing the need of incoming students, including first-generation students, for robust support and resources as they make the transition from high school to St. John's.

Recognizing the vital importance of fostering a sense of belonging early in the freshman experience, Bridge emphasizes rigorous and intentional community building as much as it does academic preparation.

The Bridge Scholars Program is a new, yearlong program providing incoming first-generation and other historically underrepresented students a uniquely tight-knit and welcoming community, supportive mentoring, and key academic preparation. Our 2021-2022 Bridge Scholars arrived on campus early this August for the Bridge Summer Intensive, in which they had the opportunity to build lasting friendships, develop key academic skills, work closely with a dynamic group of faculty and student mentors, and learn how to use the college's resources to thrive in college. 

Participants can expect to:
  • develop the specific academic skills and study habits vital to their success in the St. John’s Program;

  • establish meaningful relationships with their student mentor, faculty members, and fellow participants in an encouraging community of fellow learners;

  • receive individualized guidance and support with financial aid, financial literacy, work study, personal and professional development, and more;

  • feel empowered to advocate for themselves and one another on campus and to access the resources they need to thrive both inside and outside of the classroom;

  • take part in social events that will introduce them to the vibrant and distinct culture of St. John’s; and

  • look forward to Bridge Program peer mentoring and special events throughout the school year.

Recognizing the vital importance of fostering a sense of belonging early in the freshman experience, Bridge emphasizes rigorous and intentional community building as much as it does academic preparation. In addition to academic sessions, Bridge Scholars engaged in daily gatherings with their mentor groups consisting of facilitated icebreakers, storytelling activities, and opportunities to reflect upon and share their background and life experiences. They even had the opportunity to test and strengthen their growing bonds swinging high above the treetops at the ropes course. The weeklong Bridge Intensive closed with a riotous bonfire where participants and mentors alike shared their musical talents, mentor groups performed some hilarious skits, and Bohemian Rhapsody was belted out by all under the glow of the full moon.

After the Intensive, over the course of the school year, Bridge Scholars are provided continued support and programming including ongoing one-on-one peer mentoring, monthly Bridge community events, and individualized support from staff and faculty. Up next? Just in time for Halloween, the Bridge Program will be sponsoring “Ghost Stories and Haunted Tales from Around the World,” a student-led event during which mentors and Scholars will have the opportunity to share folklore from their home cultures and countries. Prepare to get spooked!

For more information on St. John's College’s approach, please visit their website here.