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Emily Hartley, Published June 25 2010

Program eases transition to college

Lee Vigilant’s sociology classroom is a lively one, with students laughing and making offbeat comments. But they also answer Vigilant’s questions and react to each others’ views on the topic of the day – interracial relationships.

Though regular Minnesota State University Moorhead classes aren’t in session, these students are getting a head start on their education as part of the Summer Bridge Program.

The three-week program, started this year to give students a sneak peak at college life, is for incoming freshmen from underrepresented areas. These include minority students, low-income students and first-generation college students.

“The biggest thing is you have students living together, studying together and playing together,” said Vigilant, an associate professor in the department of sociology and criminal justice at MSUM. “There is a level of comfort among the students, and that really helps to enhance class discussions.”

The 18 students enrolled in the program take classes for six hours a day that fulfill core credits at MSUM. Thanks to funding through the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, on-campus room and board and the classes, which wrap up today, are free.

“It was like a crash course,” said Andrew Fatland, a participant who graduated from Frazee (Minn.) High School this spring. “When we get to college, it will be nothing compared to this.”

The program introduces students to the academic and social life of college, with live-in mentors who arrange evening and weekend events.

“I thought it would really help me get used to what college is like,” said Chelsea Tokasin of Walker, Minn. “It’s been really great. Everyone here is kind of like a dysfunctional family.”

Jered Pigeon, program coordinator for cultural affairs at MSUM, said the program brought together students from across the country, including one on leave from the U.S. Army who served a year in Iraq.

“I’m just glad that the administration has embraced this idea,” Pigeon said. “I think it’s going to continue our president’s goal to recruit underrepresented students, and not only to recruit them, but also retain them.”

With the program’s first summer wrapping up, MSUM will try to secure funding for another group of freshmen next year.

“This is the test group, so it will be interesting to find out how they do their first year,” Vigilant said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Hartley at (701) 235-7311