The Role of First-gen Student Leaders in the Success of Summer Bridge

Quaylan Allen Ph.D., Chapman University / The Center / October 02, 2019

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On August 17, 2019, Chapman University hosted its annual three-day summer bridge program, a program that includes a partnership between First-Generation Programs, First Year Experience, and Residential Life. The First-Generation Summer Bridge Program, like other bridge programs, provides an in-depth orientation to university programs and services and works to develop a community amongst first-gen students as they transition to the university.

Students and their families engage in interactive presentations from university offices such as Career and Professional Development, Financial Aid, the Center for Undergraduate Excellence (research), as well as the Tutoring Learning and Testing Center. They also have opportunities to meet and network with first-gen faculty, staff, and administrators across campus and are welcomed to a larger first-gen community on campus to help develop their professional networks.

Chapman University Summer Bridge


I’d like to focus here on the role that student leaders play in the success of the summer bridge program. Many of our students who complete the bridge program, return as volunteer bridge leaders. As summer bridge leaders, our students serve as a resource, guide, and mentor to incoming first-gen students and their families. Our bridge leaders organize community-building activities for the program as well as a series of student-led workshops that providing crucial peer-to-peer social capital.


Some of the more popular workshops include “How to $ave at CU” and “Real Talk.”

  • In the workshop on “How to $ave at CU” bridge leaders share an abundance of strategies covering how to find affordable books, free food, and provide other cost-saving practices that will help students navigate an often expensive university and local community context.
  • “Real Talk” is a student only session where bridge leaders talk about the realities of university life, also serves as an opportunity where students can ask questions more freely.
The bridge leaders for our summer bridge program are critical to the success, and play an important role in the engagement and persistence of our incoming first-gen students.

These student led-workshops provide opportunities for peer mentoring, community building, and the development of incoming first-gen students’ social and professional networks. The workshops also allowing incoming students to learn the university culture university and strategies of how to successfully navigate the institution and the university community.

The student-led workshops always score high on post-assessment surveys and qualitative feedback and this year’s summer bridge affirmed the value of the bridge leaders. Common feedback included statements like:

  • “I’ve gained a TON of information about how to adjust/survive in college, and most of all, I feel like I’ve joined a group that really feels like family.”
  • “I gained the knowledge of where to get help when I need it and that I'm not the only one who is the first in their family to attend college, so I should not be afraid to ask for help when I need it.”

In addition to providing support for our incoming students, bridge leaders also develop important skills in mentoring, professionalism, communication, program coordination, and facilitation. The bridge leaders for our summer bridge program are critical to the success, and play an important role in the engagement and persistence of our incoming first-gen students.

To learn more about first-gen offerings at Chapman University visit: