Program Fostering Friendship Through Shared Experience Paves the Way to Community and Success at UVA Engineering

Every summer, a cohort of students entering the UVA School of Engineering and Applied Science is invited to participate in the Bridge Program that is offered through the school’s Center for Diversity in Engineering.

Established in the 1980’s, the program has a long history of creating a home-away-from-home for students about to embark on their college careers, also preparing them for the rigors of academic life.

In addition to offering social events that build a community, the program introduces entering first-year students to the many resources available through UVA. Students engage with peers, mentors and faculty in acclimating to important aspects of college life – like mindfulness, planning for a career, joining a research lab and getting a preview of academic demands.

This year, from July 18 through August 5, the program is back to hosting students in-person and welcomed 32 students from all over the United States. Their participation comes as the programming has been expanded to offer events and workshops for the entire 2022-2023 academic year.

  • James Bland welcomes Bridget Cohort

    James Bland, director of the Center for Diversity in Engineering, welcomes Bridge Program participants.

  • Bridge welcome

    Bridgers get oriented to the Center for Diversity in Engineering, a space where they will socialize and study together throughout the year.

James Bland, the Center for Diversity in Engineering’s director, points to the importance of offering a process through which entering students can ask questions and navigate new experiences within a newly established friendship circle.

It can be particularly important for the 30% of the cohort who are coming to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the first time. Campbell Brothers, who earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science at UVA Engineering in 2022, went through the Bridge Program as a first-year student in 2017.

“Being an out-of-state student, the Bridge program was the perfect way to meet my fellow peers that I would be spending the next four years with,” Brothers said. “Bridge not only allowed me to meet my best friends but also learn more about the University and become a lot more comfortable in my new environment.” 

Having the opportunity to explore the new landscape - surrounded by peers and with the support of counselors - is also important for the 28% of this year’s cohort who are first-generation college students. The faculty and staff these students meet serve as mentors and resources of information for tackling the soft skills that are critical to the collaboration, teamwork and communication that applies across engineering disciplines. 

  • Ropes Course

    Bridgers participate in social events like a visit to UVA's Poplar Ridge Ropes Course.

  • Ropes Course Teamwork

    Bridgers work together in team challenges that are a part of the ropes course.

  • Ropes Course Trust Exercise

    Bridgers participate in trust exercises to build community while creating new friendships.

In the past few years of shepherding the students, referred to as “Bridgers,” Bland has gathered feedback on what prompted them to participate.

“Many students express that they are looking for support in their transition to college, not only adjusting to a new city but also in establishing social and peer connections,” he said. “Additionally, there are many who are really interested in the math course that is offered through the program. This class prepares them for Calculus I, II, or Multivariable Calculus, ensuring all students feel ready for the fall semester.”

Getting a head-start on math credits can set a positive course. The idea is on the leading edge of a trend. Engineering schools are placing greater emphasis on preparing engineering students for calculus requirements, giving them every advantage to succeed by instilling confidence in math skills.

“Data shows that how a college student fares in their first math course becomes a strong predictor of success,” Bland, who holds a master’s degree in education, said. “Putting these students in the driver’s seat of their own academic achievement is a launchpad to many more accomplishments at UVA and beyond.”

Bridge Math Class

Bridgers take a three-credit math class, not only to get a head-start on math credits, but to build friendships in the classroom. 

Working together in a college lecture hall for the first time only solidifies these students’ bonds and builds camaraderie. New friends go right from the classroom to experiencing what life around Engineer’s Way is all about, including visits to local attractions, social events and mindfulness retreats.

The specific combination of digging into academics and socializing – all while living in the dorms and eating in the Observatory Hill dining hall – creates friendship and establishes peer and mentor networks that form an even bigger bridge to lifelong success.

And that is what this program is all about.