The 2019 BRIDGE cohort in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium

BRIDGE Program Sees Early Success in Student Experience, Retention

A Division of Student Life program aimed at cultivating a strong community for undergraduate men of color is experiencing early success since its inception in fall 2019.

BRIDGE is designed to empower students to leverage campus resources for their success and form connections to support each other as students and friends.

“BRIDGE was created to support men of color as they develop a sense of community at UA,” said Dr. Kiara Summerville, BRIDGE program director and assistant director of Student Life’s First Year Experience and Retention Initiatives. “The program helps students to create a vision and action plan for their legacy at UA.”

The four-year program begins with a 3-day, 2-night kickoff event in August for first-year students, led by a group of upper-level student leaders called the BRIDGE Builders. As the fall semester gets underway, BRIDGE students enroll in a shared academic course, engage in bi-weekly community-building events, access campus resources for student success, participate in BRIDGE-specific academic support groups, and build relationships with faculty and staff across campus.

In addition to enrolling in a shared course, first-year students have an option to participate in the BRIDGE Living-Learning Community housed in John England Jr. Hall with the goal of creating a home-away-from-home experience.

BRIDGE Builders share insight on what it means to be a UA student and share tips on how to navigate academic responsibilities in college.

“The Builders opportunity is unique in that it is one of the only institution-wide programs that is a formal leadership opportunity specifically for men of color,” said Summerville. “The Builders are selected and trained to represent the program and the institution.

“The BRIDGE program, and the people involved, helped me positively acclimate to a new phase of my life.”

“Our office also leans on Builders to represent BRIDGE to prospective UA students, administrators and program donors. The leadership opportunity helps them build skills relevant to critical thinking, public speaking, teamwork, interpersonal communication and time management.”

BRIDGE is already showing signs of success through its retention rates. The first- to second-semester retention rate for the 2020-21 cohort who began with the August 2020 kickoff event was 100%. The same cohort had a first- to second-year retention rate of 90%, versus 75.93% for men who were eligible for the August kickoff event but did not participate.

Jaden Johnson, a junior from Auburn majoring in management information systems who participated in the initial cohort and currently serves as a BRIDGE Builder, said the program was instrumental when he started UA.

“I was able to find my place here and create friendships and relationships with people that will last forever,” said Johnson. “I was able to move in early, find mentors who were willing to give me advice that would help me adjust to college life and meet other freshmen who would share my experience at such a large university and help me find a sense of community. The BRIDGE program, and the people involved, helped me positively acclimate to a new phase of my life.”

Summerville believes the program will steadily grow as it continues to provide an excellent framework for student success programs in higher education at the state, regional and national levels.

“I hope that BRIDGE continues to be a place for undergraduate men of color to thrive at UA and feel connected to campus,” said Summerville. “I am honored that I get to journey alongside the students as they develop confidence as students and student leaders. I hope that BRIDGE continues to be recognized as a premier program that provides historically excluded students a way to feel a sense of community and belonging at UA.”

BRIDGE website

Dr. Kiara Summerville


Bryant Welbourne, UA Strategic Communications,