Whitney Butler (left), a senior at Hazelwood West High School, and JaLisa Shaw, a senior at Lutheran North High School, were honored Saturday for their participation in UMSL's Bridge Program Saturday Academy. More than 1,600 people celebrated the program's 25th anniversary at America’s Center.

More than 1,600 high school students and families, as well as campus and community leaders, filled America’s Center in downtown St. Louis Saturday morning. They came to celebrate 25 years of the University of Missouri–St. Louis Bridge Program’s success in providing pre-collegiate services to the St Louis community.

Since its inception in 1986, the Bridge Program has provided effective college access programming to students and parents. The program offers students with academic, social, college and career planning and professional development courses. Bridge attracts more than 1,500 students each year representing approximately 90 public and private high schools throughout the St Louis metropolitan area. The Saturday Academy has grown from serving 120 students five years ago to 500 students this year.

“Bridge continues to provide effective college access programming, which continues to be a value to the St. Louis community,” said Natissia Small, director of the program. “We find it critical to provide pre-collegiate services that are beyond exposing students to basic foundational topics in their preparation for college. Our program offerings are unique and comprehensive, developed solely to enhance student learning in the classroom and for lifelong success.”

This year’s Bridge senior class has been accepted to more than 90 institutions and has received more than $1 million in scholarship offers. Bridge maintains an unmatched record of 100 percent participating students matriculating to college. Students complete Bridge having already fulfilled the necessary requirements for a seamless transition to a post-secondary institution.

“I’m interested in becoming a doctor,” said Whitney Butler, a senior at Hazelwood (Mo.) West High School and one of the graduating honorees at the event. “I love working with various cell structures in biology. I’m learning that there are a lot of options in science that are open for me to consider.”

Elma Cavcic, a native of Bosnia, graduated from Gateway High School in St. Louis. She was one of many Bridge alumni attending the celebratory event.

“I have always loved science and belonged to the science club at my high school,” she said. “The Bridge Program helped me figure out what I wanted to major in and how to receive scholarships. I am now a student in the College of Nursing at UMSL. I am very happy.”

Bridge also excels in providing effective programming for parents through the Saturday Academy Parent Program and CONNECT Parent Support Group.

Marla Brown learned about the Bridge Program through a co-worker.

“I went online and signed my daughter up right away,” she said. “It’s helped me to assist her with preparing for college, locating scholarships and what to expect along the journey.”

Her daughter, Rhiann White, a senior at Bayless High School in St. Louis County, hopes to study veterinary medicine at the University of Missouri–Columbia.

Cheryl Walker, an attorney with Bryan Cave law firm, former member of the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri System, and graduate of the University of Missouri–Rolla, served as the keynote speaker at Bridge’s 25th anniversary event. She was exposed to Bridge early serving as a community volunteer at Vashon High School and the now-closed Northwest High School, both in St. Louis.

“A friend introduced me to the program and we often visited schools together with a tag-team approach,” Walker said. “Our visits would often focus on indentifying and overcoming obstacles. I believe each of us has an obligation to do what we can to help others.  I grew up in north St. Louis city and am proud of where I am from. My community enabled me to pursue my dreams. I am compelled to do what I can to assist others in doing the same.”

Small, who started at UMSL as a financial aid coordinator in 1995, transitioned to the Bridge Program as a counselor in 2003 and was named director in 2007. She is the driving force behind the recent growth in offered programs. In addition to Saturday and Parent academies, the program also offers:

*Four-week Summer Academy programs conducted for current 9th and 10th grade students

*Math and science after-school clubs held currently at selective high schools throughout the St Louis region encouraging inquiry and discovery in science and math

*Parent-support groups offering a variety of workshops and seminars to assist with supporting and equipping parents with strategies to encourage a college-going culture and strengthening student-parent relationships

*School and community workshops conducted throughout St Louis that focus on career planning, college research, financial literacy and social development.

This year, the Bridge Program conducted its first gender specific male and female conferences for middle school students in the Normandy (Mo.) School District. According to Small, more than 600 students participated in workshops that focused on academic, psychosocial and professional development.

“The gender-specific conferences provided an opportunity for students to be engaged in facilitated group and panel discussions providing an open discussion on effective strategies to overcome a number of academic and social barriers that students are challenged with today,” Small said . “Students completed the one-day workshop with strategies to utilize as they encounter various challenges in their pursuit of educational success.”

Bridge is currently developing male and female conferences open to high school students throughout the St Louis area in fall 2011.

In addition to enhancing academic skills, Bridge students learn about potential careers from professionals at companies such as Boeing, Enterprise Incorporated, Edward Jones, Clear Channel Radio, Express Scripts and Husch Blackwell Sanders LLP. Students interact with a variety of professionals from the campus and community. Students obtain personal stories of success and words of wisdom from panelists and keynote speakers.

“The stories shared are impactful and students are able to connect with individuals who have the same interests and at times share a similar journey,” Small said .

JaLisa Shaw, a senior at Lutheran North High School in north St. Louis County, has been in the Bridge program for four years.

“Being in the Bridge Program has enhanced my knowledge and given me the chance to have new experiences to help me throughout my life,” Shaw said. “I have also gained new friendships with students from other schools that I would normally not have had an opportunity to interact with.”

The Bridge Program is currently accepting applications for the summer and upcoming Saturday Academy offered in the fall.

More information:

Maureen Zegel

Maureen Zegel

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