Program Bridges the Gap to Brighter Futures

By Jill Blevins  |  August 31, 2014

For UT Dallas’ Academic Bridge Program (ABP), graduation is the ultimate goal. With a graduation rate of approximately 70 percent — well above state and national averages — the program is seeing results. Corporations and foundations such as the AT&T Foundation, Ericsson Inc., Goodman Networks, the Hillcrest Foundation, the Michael and Alice Kuhn Foundation, TG, the Carl B. & Florence E. King Foundation and The Dallas Foundation like those results and have been investing in the program that invests in futures.

“The Academic Bridge Program is making a difference in the lives of young people, preparing them for productive futures,” said Gunjan Aggarwal, head of human resources for Ericsson. “Ericsson has been involved in supporting students with resume writing and job interviewing and is proud to be a part of this program.”

Founded in 2000, ABP recruits first-generation college students ranking in the top 20 percent from local urban high schools and serves approximately 160 students annually.

“Not all students — even high-ranking high schoolers — are prepared for the rigors of collegiate life,” said Dr. George Fair, vice president of diversity and community engagement and dean of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, who founded ABP. “Some need additional resources to make a successful transition. This is where the program is focusing efforts and bridging the gap.”

Incoming freshmen take part in an intensive summer session prior to their first semester to help acclimate to collegiate life. Weekly group meetings and mandatory tutoring allow ABP staff to monitor and facilitate the transition. A social element provides ABP students opportunities for cultural awareness activities and community service projects. The students receive support from faculty and staff as well as upperclassmen, who serve as peer advisors.

“My Academic Bridge mentors helped me to develop perseverance and confidence,” said Claudia Berumen BS’12, a Web application developer at IBM.

ABP participants not only are graduating at high rates, but also are securing impressive internships and employment. Academic Bridge graduates have gone on to work for corporations such as Texas Instruments, Cisco, Ericsson, AT&T, IBM, Raytheon, Fidelity Investments, JP Morgan Chase Bank, Compass Bank, Alcatel-Lucent and JC Penney Co., as well as having careers in law, medicine and education.

As a Green Fellow at UT Southwestern Medical Center, ABP student Johanan Rodriguez BS’14 spent 16 weeks pursuing a prosthetics research project incorporating robotic sensory measures to help patients receiving a prosthetic arm.

“More than anything, the mentoring I received from ABP staff and upperclassmen helped me to navigate my college career and find opportunities like the Green Fellowship,” Rodriguez said.

Rosalinda Valenzuela BA’04, MA’08, PhD’12 was the first ABP graduate to earn a PhD. Although she originally planned on a career in medicine, a professor urged her to reconsider. Today, Valenzuela works for the University, reinvesting in the program that first pushed her to succeed.

“The Academic Bridge Program gave me unconditional support and encouragement to succeed not just in school, but in life,” Valenzuela said. “I always share my experience with my students and tell them that success is possible if there is determination and persistence and you never forget your humble beginnings.”

Garry Miller Jr. BS’07, a member of the second ABP class, credits the program for instilling a standard of excellence and fostering a culture of achievement. Through the establishment of the Bridge to Our Future Opportunity Fund, Miller hopes to provide assistance enabling “future Academic Bridge Program students to step forward into their destiny” while honoring the mentors who helped chart his path.

“The combination of need-based aid and support services is a solid strategy for helping students succeed in higher education, and we’re pleased to have provided support for this exceptional program over the past three years,” said Sue McMillin, TG president and CEO.