By Elizabeth Schneider
Bestselling author Stedman Graham has made a living out of teaching people how to accomplish their dreams and defy the obstacles placed in their path.
For the 140 students he addressed at the UCSD OASIS Summer Bridge graduation on Aug. 25, the message couldn’t be more appropriate. The free four-week program, in which incoming freshmen from low-performing California high schools live and take classes at UCSD, aims to give those students the tools they need to make the transition to a top university.
“We’re trying to get them set up for success,” said Summer Bridge program representative Antoinette Nagai. “We get them hooked up with the right resources so that if they have any challenges or struggles once they’re here at UCSD, they know where the resources are.”
Program participants are enrolled in two academic classes, as well as a variety of workshops and seminars to acclimate them to the myriad challenges of college life. Some of their most important lessons, however, occur outside the classroom.
“Summer Bridge comes at you from every angle,” said Elize Diop, who participated in the program in 2008 and is now a discussion facilitator. “I feel like I found myself. I had conversations with my ATC (academic transition counselor) that I didn’t think I was capable of — I delved into things I had never explored before.”
It is exactly that development of identity and self-respect that Graham insists is the key to success.
“If you don’t have an identity and you don’t know who you are, you don’t have a direction or a way to grow,” he said. “You’re not able to get beyond the box that you’re in, whether it’s a race box or a gender box or an environment box.”
In his speech, Graham implored the students — many of whom will be the first in their family to attend college — to transcend the limitations of their background and “take charge of their legacy.”
Graham introduced the students to his nine-step success program, the subject of his New York Times bestselling book “You Can Make It Happen: A Nine-Step Plan for Success.”
“The reason I do this is I want those students to understand that it’s not about their environment, it’s not about where they came from,” he said. “It’s about taking charge of their own involvement.”
Diop says that with between this emphasis on personal development and the strong academic support system, she entered the first day of school feeling confident and at home on UCSD’s sprawling campus.
For Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Penny Rue, this sense of belonging is one of the program’s most crucial outcomes.
“What really helps students thrive is having a niche, having a sense of belonging,” she said. It’s a big, complex place, but if you have somewhere where you feel known … that really makes a difference.”
After completing the OASIS Summer Bridge program — which is unrelated to the Summerbridge program that’s held at La Jolla High each summer — the students stay enrolled in a year-long transition program which offers workshops on study skills and other elements of academic success.
Rue says that the freshman year is the most critical of college, and that the foundation students gain offers them the skills and the confidence to excel in UCSD’s rigorous academic environment.
“It makes them think ‘I can do this — of course I can succeed’,” she said. “And the truth is that if you believe you can succeed, you will succeed.”