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