After graduating from Kokomo’s McKinley Alternative School, she enrolled in Indiana University Kokomo’s summer Bridge Program, designed to help first-time students successfully transition from high school to the more challenging university environment. The goal is to increase academic success and to keep students on track to earn their IU degree.
Cottingham, a psychology major, is one of the program’s success stories, as she prepares to start her sophomore year.
“When I started classes, I knew where I was going while most of the first-year students were still looking,” she said. “I knew more about the campus than I would have if I hadn’t attended.” She also found her job in the campus Library through the program.
She recently shared her freshman year experiences with students in the 2016 Bridge Program, reminding them that professors are “just people,” and want to help them; and they should not skip classes because it will affect their grades.
The program has shown positive results since it started with 24 students in 2014. This year, nearly 70 students earned a college credit by participating in the free program, and gained many other benefits. Campus data shows that nearly 90 percent of students who participate in the Bridge program return for their second year of college, which is better than the general population of first year students.
“I am positive Bridge is going to continue to show positive results as one of the most effective things we are offering students,” said Christina Downey, interim assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs and student success. “Students who complete Bridge are highly likely to come back and enroll in their second year. The campus saw the benefits to the students were consistent, so the chancellor made a commitment to offer more sections.”
Downey said most incoming freshmen are learning to be successful college students at the same time they are studying the curriculum for their classes, which is two different kinds of learning.
“If we do this right, students can learn how to be students mostly before classes begin,” she said. “Then they can focus on their classes, because they know for the most part how to be a successful student.”
Returning to school at age 32, Kandis Taflinger appreciates the chance to learn about the technology she will use as a new student.
“I’m nervous about coming to college,” she said. “The Bridge program gave me a lot of the information I need. I’m really glad I did this, because it’s been very helpful.”
Spending a week with her Bridge class made her more relatable to her younger classmates, she added.
“It’s been easier to make friends than I expected,” the Kokomo resident said.
Something as simple as meeting people before classes starts has a major impact.
“The things students describe as most impactful about Bridge are the connections they make to each other, and the connections they make to faculty,” Downey said. “They come to see these faculty as their mentors, their resources on campus. When they have a question, they come back to those people.”
The program also targets students transferring from other schools, including Ivy Tech Community College. This year, there were sections specifically for those transfer students, as well as a section for those planning to enroll in allied health sciences or nursing majors. Instructors tailored those programs to the specific needs of those students.
“They’re entering a very challenging degree program, so making a connection with people in their major right from the beginning will be great for their jump start to success,” she said. “I think this is just going to be phenomenal for them.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.