Photo provided by Amara Ali
After returning from her summer travels, Amara Ali only had two days to pack and get ready before she was set to arrive at Trinity on August 4. Bags packed, the first-year drove onto campus to no exuberant O-Team members, no large move-in crew and — perhaps strangest of all — no group of 640 other new students with whom to discover the ins and outs of college. Instead, Ali arrived to a quiet campus. The first time she ate at Mabee Dining Hall, she said it was nearly empty.
Ali was part of a unique First-Year Experience (FYE) course, titled “A Successful Life,” which was specifically created for first-generation and Pell Grant-eligible students. Students who qualify are emailed in advance, and — if they choose to opt in to the FYE — must arrive on campus two weeks before classes begin. Arriving early allows students to both get acquainted with the university and to start FYE coursework before other classes start.
“It was really awesome because it gave us a look at the campus before anybody else. It kind of magnified the resources we had,” Ali said.
The “A Successful Life” FYE accounts for only a third of Trinity’s Academic Success Program (ASP) that ran this year from Aug. 4 – 12. First-year football players arrived ten days before Football Camp to participate in Summer Bridge academic workshops; Trinity also holds a Summer Bridge math program for qualified first-years who want to prepare for college-level science and mathematics.
The Summer Bridge Program has been in place at Trinity since 2010 and evolved into an FYE with the adoption of the Pathways curriculum in 2015. According to John Hermann, associate professor of political science, last year’s retention rate of first-year students involved in the Summer Bridge Program was 96 percent, whereas the overall retention rate of first-year students at Trinity was 91 percent. Hermann has been teaching A Successful Life for the past four years and is proud of how far the FYE has come.
“This is an amazing program,” Hermann said. “We’re doing something really right.”
Hermann stressed that though first-generation and Pell-eligible students may face disadvantages such as food insecurity, financial troubles or familial stress, he believes lack of privilege does not translate to lack of intelligence.
“Privilege and preparation are sometimes confused,” Hermann said. “A student isn’t smart [just because] they know something before. If I tell someone how to do something, and then they do it correctly — that’s smart.”
The Summer Bridge Program — as well as the rest of the “A Successful Life” FYE — aims to put this intelligence to work.
Hermann described the “A Successful Life” FYE as having three parts. During the first part of the FYE, students are asked to “define success” by thinking about what success means to them. During the second portion, students discuss barriers to success: This part features a field trip to the Bexar County Detention Center and a lesson about the juvenile justice system. Finally, the third section of the course discusses pathways to success — how students can put all that they have learned in the previous portions into action.
During the summer portion of the FYE, students are in class with faculty members for five hours a day. Before the start of classes, students have already turned in their first research paper, and are 25 percent of the way done with the course. Because so much gets done beforehand, the class also ends around the time of Thanksgiving break, giving students more time to focus on other finals.
Vice president for Student Life Sheryl Tynes, who has played a major role in organizing the Summer Bridge Program and FYE, attributes some of the FYE’s success to what she calls a self-selection process. Tynes believes the decision to cut one’s summer short for the sake of academic improvement is a courageous one.
“The students in the Summer Bridge Program have a fire in them that maybe a lot of students don’t have,” Tynes said.
As soon as Ali got an email inviting her to participate in Summer Bridge Program, she was in.
“[The email said] ‘Summer Bridge students are more likely to succeed academically and have a higher four-year retention rate. They have better grades, a higher graduation rate, and they are allowed to finish a month early before finals.’ Those are the things that got to me,” Ali said.
Her seminar and writing workshop courses during the program did not disappoint. She spoke highly of her professors, Gregory Hazleton and Amy Holmes, and said she feels prepared to continue her coursework due to their support.
“They were so welcoming,” Ali said. “Like, Dr. Hazleton … There was a part of the day where he talked about MLA citations, right? But he didn’t just tell us what he wanted. He was like, ‘Some professors like this; some professors don’t like it when you put the last name with the page number on the upper hand corner.’ He looked up Purdue Owl, and he gave us a sample page. He really went into it. So, I felt like we had a huge advantage.”
Former FYE students agree that the course shaped them into better writers and students. Sophomore Noel Coppedge is a peer tutor in the writing section of the FYE, but didn’t feel too confident about his writing when he first came to Trinity.
“I came in not well-prepared for college-level writing. My high school didn’t do a great job of teaching that. … My first paper was pretty rough, but I slowly improved over the course of the semester,” Coppedge said.
Sophomore Catherine Hoffman is also a peer tutor and former student of the course. She reflected on the social benefits of arriving on campus early.
“A lot of my friends ended up coming from that program. We were all in the same class, doing all the activities together. It was really nice coming in to already have a set group of friends,” Hoffman said.
I talked to Amara Ali the day before the first day of classes. She said she was looking forward to exploring her own faith in the Quran course, and taking Spanish because she’s always wanted to become fluent. She said she was a little nervous for her general chemistry lab, but not much.
“Yeah,” Ali said. “I’m not super stressed about tomorrow.”
| Class of 2020 | Major: English | Minor: Creative Writing