Bridging For Success: New Collaborative Program For Health CORE Students

August 8, 2016

The school year will be starting early for a new group of students at the University of Minnesota Rochester, in order to give them intentional support as they make the life-changing transition from high school to college. This support was brought together by the innovative collaboration of UMR's faculty and staff, to ensure these new students are ready for a rigorous academic year and their leadership opportunity on campus.

This year UMR is welcoming its first cohort of Health CORE students to campus, as part of a new Living Learning Community. CORE (Community of Respect and Empowerment) aims to support the success of underrepresented, undergraduate students who will enter the health care field with their distinct perspectives. Their backgrounds are diverse and their commitment and passion for health care brings them together at UMR.

"The Health CORE Living Learning Community is designed to close the disparity gap by easing an underrepresented student's transition to the rigors of a college education in the health sciences," said Health CORE Coordinator Robert Reese. "Through shared experiences, Health CORE forms a community of student advocates who share an academic interest in reducing racial and ethnic health disparities."

"What sets Health CORE students apart from other first-year students is the commitment they have made to one another, to live, learn, and lead together," said Vice Chancellor Lori Carrell.

Health CORE students will arrive on campus two weeks early to participate in the Bridge Program. Similar to a physical bridge, this program will support their transition to college through academic support in writing and statistics, and their transition to the expectations of leadership and a structured living community.

"Our faculty and staff have constructed a beautiful and interesting 'bridge' for Health CORE students to cross – and I imagine that they will lead and succeed because of their support of one another," said Carrell.

During the Bridge Program, faculty will help prepare these students in two academic areas -- writing and statistics. Faculty members Virginia Wright-Peterson and Jered Bright have designed an integrated curriculum for the two weeks, that includes other faculty contributing as guest lectures.

"I have one main goal: To have the students become comfortable with using Microsoft Excel," said Bright, who will be leading student in statistics preparation. "Throughout the academic sessions, we will be embedding academic and non-academic success strategies, including study strategies and how and where to contact faculty."

Reese says that similar programs at other universities have substantially improved the academic performance of program participants, and bridge programs help acclimate students to the campus culture before the academic year begins.

But the two weeks isn't just about preparing for the academic rigor of UMR. It's also supporting these students, many of whom are first-generation college students, into a new phase of their lives.

Students will leave campus, and head out into southeastern Minnesota, to build relationships with those in their cohort and with faculty and staff who are there to support their transition into college life.

They'll head to the high ropes course at Eagle's Bluff Learning Center near Lanesboro, visit a farmstead and paddle down the Zumbro River, ending with a bonfire and time of reflection. Every day will include a Health and Wellness activity, along with a time for "mindfulness" led by UMR's Health and Wellness coordinator Kris Barry.

"By providing intentional student-faculty interactions, both in and outside the classroom, the Health CORE seeks to establish a positive relationship between faculty and staff, and program participants," said Reese.

What makes UMR's Health CORE Bridge Program unique is how it was created through the collaboration between Academic Affairs and Student Development. Student development staff and faculty have been in dialogue for months, designing a energizing learning experience. Immersion and relevance are key to such programs, and the Health CORE bridge will deliver both. The distinctive health and wellness focus is a hallmark for UMR.

"Collaboration is a key mechanism for the innovation that characterizes UMR," said Carrell. "The collaborative work of writing faculty, math faculty, student development staff from many areas of campus life, and community members serving on the Health CORE advisory board, is truly a spectacular display of what makes UMR unique."

While this year the Bridge Program is only being offered to Health CORE students, there is potential to expand the program in future years so that all incoming, first-year students can participate.

"We will be reflecting critically on each aspect of this pilot, in part to inform and invigorate our orientation for all students," said Carrell. "This bridge crossing from high school to college, specifically to UMR, is a pivotal moment in the learning journey of our students."