More than 30 new students spent a week touring the Black Hills State University campus and Northern Hills community through a program aimed at helping Native American students make a smooth transition into university life.
The BHSU Bridge Program, now in its fourth year, is an early move-in and orientation experience that helps students transition from high school to university life by addressing academic, professional, cultural and social issues that first-time Native students may face.
“It’s been great,” said Thristine LaPointe of Rapid City as she sat and talked with two new friends. “It has been nice getting to know the school before everything starts happening.”
The Center for American Indian Studies at BHSU organizes the program, which is funded through the South Dakota College Access Grant, a federally funded program designed to assist underrepresented K-12 students in their transition to postsecondary education.
The students are matched with BHSU upperclassmen mentors, many of whom have previously participated in the Bridge Program. “For freshmen, it can be really scary. For many it is the first time leaving the reservation or wherever they are from,” said Mary Mitchell, elementary education major from Eagle Butte and Bridge Program mentor. “The program helps students connect with people who have those same fears."
Mitchell knows firsthand the fear of starting college and, as a mentor, she now hopes to ease that fear for new students. “I was the only person who came from my high school. It was nice to have that first week to make a bond with people.”
During the week-long program, students participated in financial advising sessions and social activities, moved into the residence halls, met faculty, and toured the area.
Launched in 2010, BHSU’s Bridge Program was originally funded by a short-term grant from the American Indian Education Foundation. The Bridge Program proved to be such a success in its first year that it has been expanded and supported this year by a long-term financial commitment from the South Dakota Department of Education’s College Access Challenge Grant.
Rosie Sprague, assistant director of the BHSU Center for American Indian Studies, said the goal of the program is to provide students with the tools to make their journey from high school to college a success.
Many Native American students face culturally unique challenges in the pursuit of their university degree.
“The Bridge Program was developed to help freshmen Native students succeed here,” said Urla Marcus, BHSU Center for American Indian Studies director. “Many of the students who will participate are the first in their family to attend college anywhere. They face culturally unique challenges in pursing higher education, and the Bridge Program is a way of helping them find solutions and resources to overcome those challenges.”?The goal of the program is to encourage active participation and graduation from BHSU, which has the highest percentage of Native students of the six state universities in South Dakota.