We conducted a research case study to ascertain the effect of a bridge program on fostering self-growth and academic readiness for college. Academic wholism provided the vehicle to promote self-awareness, self-motivation, and academic maturity. The rippling effect of this program extended beyond academics to the personal level.
Success comes in various colors, as delineated in a research case study of a college bridge program conducted at Chestnut Hill College. “Summer bridge programs are designed to provide assistance to individuals entering college… The main thrust of the program is to retain these new populations within higher education and to provide them with an equal footing with other students” (Kezar 2000, 1).
After seven years of teaching in an intensive four-week Summer Success Program focused on bridging the gap between high school and college, we agree with Kezar. But we wondered how worthwhile the program was for participants. Did students benefit beyond the limited time allotted for the magical makeovers? We always knew what we planned and thought students should gain, but what did they take from the experience? To find out, we conducted a research case study of this program, and so our story evolves.
At the core of the Summer Success Program is a four-credit college environmental science course that emphasizes reading, writing, math, and critical-thinking skills. Academic wholism is the term we have coined to represent the unique venue that Chestnut Hill College developed for this program.
We define academic wholism as a learning approach that challenges students’ cognitive, social, and emotional domains and learning profiles. This multi-directional channeling takes place in supportive English and math classes, computer and time-management workshops, and tutoring and study skills sessions, all of which are wrapped within a rigorous daily schedule. Students evaluate their own academic strengths and weaknesses, and the instructors give them affirmation or direction. The measure of success for academic wholism rests in students’ self-awareness, self-motivation, and internalization of the demands of academic maturity.
We used a student questionnaire (Figure 1) to conduct a research case study on the effect of the Summer Success Program on students’ self-growth and academic readiness for college. Although each participant in the case study achieved the same short-term goal of passing the environmental science course, the long-term influence of this bridge experience was unique for each individual. Seeking to determine the customization of academic wholism inherent during and after the program’s end, we targeted three questions for the course graduates:
- How did the components of the environmental science course facilitate self-assessment for academic readiness for college? (This was addressed in questions 1 through 3 in the questionnaire.)
- How did the course provide the extrinsic stimulation needed to evaluate your math, language, critical-thinking, and study skills? (This was addressed in questions 4 and 5.)
- What overall effect did your Summer Success experience have on you during and after completion of the program? (This was addressed in questions 6 through 8.)
|Figure 1. Questionnaire on the Summer Success Program.
1. How did the intensity, pace, and requirements of the environmental science course prepare you for academic success in college?
2. As part of the environmental science course, you wrote a lab report, constructed and interpreted graphs, performed Internet searches for journal articles, summarized articles, wrote an issue paper, and gave a PowerPoint presentation. Did these assignments help you identify your strengths and overcome any weaknesses in writing and mathematics? Please explain your answer.
3. How did the field trips (e.g., to the Philadelphia Zoo) increase your understanding of environmental concepts studied in class?
4. In what ways did incorporating the math and English classes into the program foster academic success for you in the environmental science course?
5. How helpful were the study skills and counseling workshops in assisting you with your transition from high school to college?
6. In general, what do you believe were the strengths of the Summer Success Program?
7. List any suggestions you have for changes in the Summer Success Program.
8. Please make any additional comments about the program and its effect on your life.
9. Do you believe that you were more successful academically in college because of the Summer Success Program than you would have been without this program? Please say yes or no.
10. Do you believe that you adjusted more quickly to the demands of college because of the Summer Success Program? Please say yes or no.
This qualitative research study involved 50 students who, in the past four years, successfully completed the program and at least two semesters at the college. Of the 12 respondents to the questionnaire, 11 responded that they were more academically successful in college because of the Summer Success Program. The only student who disagreed with this (responded to question 9 in the questionnaire with a “no”) answered all of the remaining nine questions of the questionnaire in a positive fashion.
Virtually every response was overwhelmingly positive, which affirmed the validity of our academic wholism approach. All respondents believed that they adjusted more quickly to the demands of college because of the program. For instance, one said, “The program has helped me be the best student I can be. I recommend it. It is an eye opener. But when they are finally open, you see so clearly.”
Research Question #1
The environmental science course was constructed to emphasize analytical reading, writing, math, and critical-thinking skills. Within the course framework, testing, lab work, graph analysis, written reports, and oral presentations provided connections for the integration of these skills. “Students learn in many ways—by seeing and hearing; reflecting and acting; reasoning logically and intuitively; memorizing and visualizing and drawing analogies and building mathematical models; steadily and in fits and starts” (Felder and Silverman 1988, 674).
Course assignments challenged students with their scope and depth. Demanding coursework and high expectations frequently required a change in old habits. For instance, one student commented, “I became more attentive and my note-taking skills also improved.” At the same time, the course assignments helped students identify their strengths and overcome any weaknesses. One student explained, “It prepared me to work hard and concentrate on my studies.”
Field trips added a dimension of reality and applicability to the topics studied. One student remarked, “These trips are a learning experience, a new way to look at things.” As affirmed by Kovalik (1997), field trips awaken multiple senses and stimulate brain processes. For Summer Success students, these experiences heightened awareness of course content. As one student put it, “instead of just learning from the book you were able to see everything for yourself and understand what you learned.”
The program’s culminating activity was an oral presentation focusing on the pros and cons of an environmental issue. Organizing scientific facts, formulating convincing arguments to justify their personal position on the issue, and presenting this in front of an audience evoked high anxiety for most students. One explained, “The assignments helped me overcome public speaking and criticism fears. They also strengthened my confidence in myself and the quality of my work.”
Research Question #2
The interdisciplinary nature of the course prompted the inclusion of supplementary instruction in the format of math and English classes and computer, study skills, and time-management workshops. The course assignments required students to self-evaluate their backgrounds in these foundational areas, with the self-reflection promoting a metamorphosis needed for success. One student said, “Math and English classes provided a sense of reality. The program taught me that these classes served as a helpmate to the environmental course.”
During math class, students organized experimental results into data tables, subsequently constructing and interpreting appropriate graphs. This facet of the program led to an enhanced understanding of the value of graph analysis, as exemplified in the lab and content-area reading. Grappling with writing an environmental issue paper and creating lab reports necessitated review of grammar, punctuation, sentence construction, and cohesive expression of thought in English class. “I came into the Summer Success Program writing as a high school student, but by the end of the program I learned to be a college student,” stated another student.
Intimidated by the academic workload, students soon recognized the need for effective and efficient ways to learn. To this end, as part of the academic wholism approach, study skills and counseling workshops provided invaluable practical support. Students could take advantage of tutoring sessions to understand course material that eluded them and to solidify their learning goals. Small group counseling sessions were scheduled on a regular basis to address the emotional upheaval arising from academic challenges. Also, for anyone interested, the counselor was available for individual sessions on a daily basis.
Research Question #3
A mixed bag of emotions surfaced as students embarked on their four-week journey. Excited at the prospect of a new venture, yet fearful of the unknown, students anticipated the program to be an extension of high school but with more liberties. Unaware of what was to come, they blissfully focused on the social aspect of their new haven—freedom from parental guidelines, the perceived absence of challenging authority figures, the allure of independence, and control over their own lives. However, the reality of the program quickly set in as the academic parameters unfolded.
A stringent schedule (Figure 2) helped us reset the focus from an “I” dominated, self-controlling climate to one that imposed restrictions and mandates relative to academic policy, performance, and social behavior. Initially, students reacted with skepticism, ambivalence, and resistance. They eventually accepted the desired academic performance, after varying lag times.
The internalization of all facets of the Summer Success Program was not immediate for some students. Proof of their initial success was a passing grade in the course. However, the intensity of the four-week program left little time for self-reflection. This would have to wait until the rigors of academia fell upon them in the fall semester. Hence, the defining moment for testing the efficacy of the program occurred during their first year in college. Students realized that if they pulled everything together—the study, math, and writing skills and the personal awareness of their strengths and weaknesses—they would be empowered to succeed. As one student put it, “I would not be in college if it weren’t for the Summer Success Program. I would have been overwhelmed and dropped out.”
Students who participated in the Summer Success Program found themselves engulfed in an environmental science course concentrated within a four-week time framework. They realized that learning efficiency required self-reflection on their assets and liabilities in studying, creative and critical-thinking skills, math and writing capabilities, and time management. The academic atmosphere provided a great challenge for them. Effective guidance needed to develop the skills and attitudes required for academic readiness in college came in the form of math and English classes, workshops, tutoring, and counseling.
The program’s strength lay in the diversity of activities and support classes, which provided the means to achieve academic readiness. Self-revelation regarding confidence, self-worth, perseverance, and successfully overcoming obstacles propelled students on a path toward academic success. As one student put it, “The Summer Success Program helped me help myself and realize my personal potential. It also demanded high expectations of me and now I demand the best of myself. Due to this program, I truly became a success story.”
As educators in this Summer Success Program, and as a result of this case study, we had an epiphany: Academic wholism has a rippling effect that extends to the personal level. The enhanced self-worth of each student was an integral part of the Summer Success experience. The long-term effect of academic wholism in this bridge program was achieved if students mastered skills and strategized their own scholastic survival plan in their first year of college. We predicted that ours would be successful according to that measurement. However, we had not foreseen the important impression on students’ independence and maturity. As one student said, “The Summer Success Program was very influential and beneficial to my life. It not only taught me many things academically but it also taught me a lot about myself and my capabilities.”
“Maturity, attitudes and motivation are key aspects to learning. It is relatively easy to teach content and processes; it is more difficult to deal with the affective aspects” (Druger 2003, 280). Just as metabolic pathways in living organisms are numerous, complex, and varied, so too are the components of academic wholism. In this approach to learning, self-reflective catabolic and anabolic processing is crucial to achieving academic readiness. Replacing ineffective, inhibiting, comfortable study practices and attitudes with productive, enabling, initially disquieting counterparts, leads to empowerment and academic validation.
With academic wholism, pliable adolescents bend and reconfigure their educational base. As the makeover evolves in our Summer Success Program, the degree and intensity of newly discovered self-awareness and academic maturity varies with each individual. And just as the colors of a rainbow are many, so too are the success stories of these students.
Barbara A. Giuliano (e-mail: bgiuliano419@ aol.com) is an adjunct faculty educator, and Judith L. Sullivan (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) is an assistant professor of mathematics, both at Chestnut Hill College, 9601 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19118.
Druger, M. 2003. Education for life: A perspective on teaching introductory college science. Journal of College Science Teaching 32(4): 280–281.
Felder, R.M., and L.K. Silverman. 1988. Learning and teaching styles in engineering education. Engineering Education 78(7):674–681.
Kezar, A. 2000. Summer bridge programs: Supporting all students. Washington, D.C. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No: ED 442 421).
Kovalik, S. 1997. ITI: The Model. Kent, Wash.: Books for Educators.