Finding Our Way Across the Bridge

My internship with BridgeYear is officially halfway over. As we find ourselves in the middle of a very busy July, we’re thinking about our current students and projects, but also about the future of the organization. It’s a daunting task, and while the co-founders are the ones doing the majority of the thinking ahead, us interns get to pitch in.

Students analyzing (fake) urine samples in the Medical Laboratory Technologist Simulation. Many yucks can be heard in the background.

To rephrase, BridgeYear is the on-ramp to educational pathways and employment opportunities for individuals in low-income communities. We do this by designing Career Test Drives (CTDs) to increase career awareness and providing near-peer advising to support the crucial postsecondary transition to community college. It’s important to mention that due to the startup nature of the nonprofit, things are constantly changing. While our goal has always been to provide support to students who plan to enroll in community college, the how I mentioned above was not set in stone from the start.

Last summer, change to us came in the form of increased matriculation rates with our how being advising provided by college students. If we could successfully guide students through the enrollment process and get them to the first day of their fall semester, then we had some impact in defeating summer melt. As it turns out, with BridgeYear advising, 59% of recent high school graduates who participated in the 2016 pilot enrolled in community college (compared to the local rate of 30%). This meant that the program nearly doubled enrollment rates and the organization was heading in the right direction.

While this was all great news that told us we had the advising portion down, something was still missing. After advising and interviewing community college students over three months, BridgeYear realized that career clarity was a missing aspect of purposeful college enrollment, and in came CTDs. The idea behind CTDs was to get students to go to college not just because it was what was expected of them, but because they had strong reasons and future plans.

Students participating in the Pharmacy Technician CTD. BridgeYear travels to participating schools and set up can be done in any empty classroom space in under an hour.

The first of the CTDs was Pharmacy Technician. Students got to pretend to be pharm techs in a fifteen minute simulation in which they filled prescription orders for patients. In that time, students learned hands-on about job responsibilities and the skills necessary to be successful on the job. Whether they loved the job or hated it, the good news was that they gained exposure. After that CTD was a hit, two more came into the picture: Medical Laboratory Technologist and Medical Coding Specialist. Today, thanks to CTDs, 91% of participants have become more aware of the daily tasks of new careers.

What planning to determine where BridgeYear is headed looks like on the daily. Literally creating the bridge to opportunities.

The process that comes before changes, in places like our how, takes many forms. Sometimes the process is countless hours of brainstorming on a whiteboard or giant post-it notes. Sometimes it’s talking to mentors and coaches who can share their expertise and help us better our strategies. Oftentimes it’s talking to the students themselves. At the end of the day, the ideas that seem small when thrown around our collaboration table are what allow us to continue innovating day in and day out.

The change itself comes in a multitude of ways too. Students enrolling in college at higher rates like previously mentioned is one way. Helping them gain career exposure is another. There’s days when change to me is students asking for my help without me having to nudge them. It’s all a part of the big picture.

As I wait for the next half of the summer to unfold, I will continue to contribute my part by leading the Advising Team to ensure that our students enroll into college and that lack of guidance isn’t a problem. The advising portion is still essential to our mission and is a responsibility I take to heart. Even if my role seems small on a weekday afternoon, I hope it will be bigger than I anticipate in the long run.

Dariana Resendez ’19

Birthday #1

On June 30th, 2016, a manila envelope arrived at the BridgeYear Headquarters (aka a townhouse living room set up to look like an office). Inside were a couple of pieces of paper that the BridgeYear team had so anxiously been waiting for. The first sentence read:

“Dear Applicant,

We are pleased to inform you that upon review of your application for tax exempt status we have determined that you are exempt from Federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the International Revenue Code.”

At first glance, this may seem like an odd sentence to get excited about, but for a team of ten that had been working for a month to build something from nothing, it was the kind of confirmation we needed. We had been approved for 501(c)(3) status, meaning we were officially operating under nonprofit status!

The full BridgeYear team during our celebratory photoshoot. Special shout-out to our Co-Founders, Victoria Doan and Victoria Chen (on the top left), for leading our team and coaching us to be our best selves.

It’s been a year since that day, which means BridgeYear is officially one! Last Friday, on the organization’s birthday, the team celebrated with some cake and a photoshoot. As I stood there and watched my coworkers laugh hysterically at our co-founders standing behind the camera yelling things like “Give me more sass!” and “Yes, that’s perfect!” I couldn’t help but reflect on the last year. So much has changed about the organization, and in the process, a lot has changed about me too. After my first summer of interning, I realized that education was the field I saw myself in the most. While I didn’t come to that conclusion then and there, subconsciously, I built my class schedule around topics that I believed would best prepare me to serve in this sector.

Upon my return to Brandeis for the fall 2016 semester, I took a course called Latinos in the US with Professor Madeleine López. There, I learned about the generations of Latinos before me whose efforts to attain social justice in education are the reason I get to attend a school like Brandeis today. Professor López taught me to analyze history in a way that I hadn’t been taught to before – she showed me that the inequalities experienced by Latinxs in our education system today are rooted in the history of this country. With her words always in mind, I’ve been able to trace back the reasons for the low rates at which Latinxs enroll in and graduate from higher education. When a whole population experiences de facto segregation and is denied of resources for decades, the systems in place are anything but fair. I think about this a lot as nearly 78% of BridgeYear students today are Latinxs from low-income communities. It makes the reasons behind my work in college access and success 100 times stronger on a good day, and 1000 times more powerful on the tougher days.

Under Professor Wallace’s leadership our class put together Justice Jam: an event that brought together the Brandeis community to discuss social justice in education. I got to be a panel moderator for the incredible Clint Smith! Check him out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6lifKTbFTw

While my class with Professor López gave background to my work, Spring 2017 brought with it a massive amount of knowledge through the class Critical Perspectives in Urban Education. It was one thing to learn about segregation before Brown v. Board of Education in 1964, and it was another to talk about its existence in 2017. Professor Derron Wallace taught me to recognize the evolving forms of racial, economic, and social exclusion that place students in urban areas at a disadvantage. With BridgeYear I get to go around the city and into high schools where resources are scarce and out of reach for those who could benefit from them the most. Because of Professor Wallace, I’m able to better understand the complexity of issues affecting local public schools and then critically think about how I’d like to tackle them in the future.

Writing this reminds me of how lucky I really am. I’m able to work hands on in something I’m passionate about. I get to turn theory from my classes into practice at work and the scholar inside of me cannot get over how magnificent this feels. With six weeks left of the internship, I’m eager to see more of my Brandeisian lessons appear in my day to day work.

Dariana Resendez, ’19

Welcome to BridgeYear

The BridgeYear logo painted by one of our Co-Founders and me over many lunch breaks.
  • Stop by Home Depot for some blue paint
  • Develop metrics for a business plan proposal
  • Come to work in scrubs
  • Make the enrollment steps to the local community college easily digestible for students
  • Assemble IKEA furniture for the office
  • Update the team’s meeting agenda

It may look odd, but that’s how my to-do list reads on any given week this summer. I could’ve opted to write the responsibilities that were listed in my job description, but the truth is that wouldn’t come close to encompassing this out of the ordinary internship experience. The wide range of my day-to-day activities is the result of interning for a nonprofit startup in education, BridgeYear.  Bridge Year is the brainchild of two former college counselors, Victoria Chen and Victoria Doan,  who I’m delighted to call my mentors, and was founded in the summer of 2016 in Houston, Texas.

BridgeYear started off as a community college transition program for first generation students from low-income communities. The goal was to battle the phenomenon known as summer melt, which “melts” away recent high school graduates’ plans to enroll in college the fall immediately after graduation. To decrease the rates of the phenomenon, BridgeYear provided support to students through near peer advisors -college interns like myself– that helped students matriculate into community college. While enrollment rates were doubled, as the summer progressed, BridgeYear realized there were things beyond summer melt affecting students’ futures. After recognizing that students in low-income communities also lack access to workforce opportunities, the program now immerses students in career simulations that expose them to high-growth careers and propels them toward economic mobility.

This is actually my second summer with BridgeYear, as I was part of the inaugural team back when this was only an idea. It was a life altering experience to establish a nonprofit from the ground up; an opportunity I wanted so desperately to repeat because I felt my work wasn’t done.

And so here I am. A few seasons have passed and my passion, purpose, and philosophies on education have only grown. I knew that round 2 of Continue reading “Welcome to BridgeYear”