Tyler Wright is winding down his senior year at Pattonville High School and still deciding on his future plans.
Wright knows he wants to study molecular biology.
“All my life, I have been deeply passionate about genetics,” he said to an audience of several hundred tuning into Saturday’s University of Missouri–St. Louis Bridge Program Express Scripts Saturday Academy Award Recognition Ceremony as it streamed on YouTube. “Even as a child, hearing about DNA filled my mind with images of a new frontier in my life. I knew that in the future, I would be striving to pursue a career in this field by attending a prestigious and revered college in which I can pursue a major in said field.”
He’s still figuring out where.
But Wright, who served as master of ceremonies for the 35th annual event, knows he has options that wouldn’t have been available to him were it not for the work he did through the Bridge Program over the past four years.
“I knew that in order to afford to send myself to college, I would have to stand above my peers academically as well,” Wright said. “My biggest concern at that stage was my ACT score. I owe my success in standardized testing entirely to the UMSL Bridge Program. I saw my score increase from a 23 to a 31 during my time taking part in the ACT-prep courses. Thanks to my experience in this program, I’ve taken another step closer to the dream I first had all those years ago.”
Bridge has been helping high school students such as Wright prepare for college success since 1986.
It has developed one of the most successful and widely emulated models for comprehensive, year-round college preparation programming in the country, providing academic enrichment courses in mathematics, science and written and oral communication, as well as personal and professional development and college planning through its Express Scripts Saturday Academy.
Bridge students come from a range of academic backgrounds – public schools, private schools and homeschooled – and they include people from every racial, ethnic and socioeconomic group.
During the program’s first 34 years, the students hailed from somewhere in the St. Louis region, but, COVID-19 precautions forced the curriculum to shift to a virtual format this year – and presented an opportunity to expand Bridge’s reach. There were 18 out-of-state students who took part in this year’s Saturday Academy, and they came from as far away as Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, all attracted by the program’s record of success.
Since 2003, 100 percent of students who have completed the Bridge Program have matriculated to college.
“These four years of the Bridge Program showed the value of education that goes beyond money,” said Hazelwood Central High School senior Folsade Fanegan, who delivered the student keynote during Saturday’s ceremony. “It showed many of us that through determination and hard work, each of us has what it takes to reach our goals.”
Fanegan added: “It wasn’t all about academics. In addition to the opportunity to be exposed to college level criteria, the Bridge program also stressed the importance of self evaluation and self care, to embrace ourselves and ask for help when we need it. We learned how to build character, be the best that we can when faced with hardship and other life lessons that we’ll carry with us. And last but not least, we’ve all had the opportunity to make new friends and meet students from school districts all across the metropolitan area and Bridge staff who are passionate about helping us and who support us no matter what our dreams are.”
Fanegan, like Wright, was one of the 107 Bridge seniors to complete the program this year. They’ve so far been admitted to more than 130 colleges and universities with $4 million in scholarships and counting.
The virtual event featured congratulatory messages from Evernorth CEO Tim Wentworth and Cigna Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Susan Stith, as well testimonials from local educators and administrators such as Webster Groves High School Assistant Principal Dwight Kirksey and Ritenour High School College and Career Counselor Cabrina Noonan and School District of University City Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley and Bridge parent Nicole Adewale.
Basketball great Lisa Leslie, a three-time WNBA MVP and four-time Olympian, delivered the keynote address and borrowed from Aristotle while encouraging students to strive for excellence.
“Have the courage to go after your goals,” Leslie said. “Don’t be afraid. Some of us are dreamers, we talk about it, but when it comes time to do it, we’re not sure if we can. Have the courage to do it. … Execute your goals. Don’t be afraid to follow up, to seek out those mentors, to set goals for yourself and get after it. You’ll never know if you are afraid to fail.”