Bridge programs for incoming freshmen expand reach

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(Photo by Michael Marsland)

As Yale College prepares for a 15% expansion in the undergraduate student body, two newer programs designed to help students transition to Yale have successfully expanded as well.

Freshman Scholars at Yale (FSY) and Online Experiences for Yale Scholars (ONEXYS) take two distinct approaches to providing select groups of incoming Yale freshmen with extensive academic and non-academic resources to position them for success at Yale. Since launching in 2013 FSY has expanded from 34 incoming freshmen to 60, and since launching in 2014 the ONEXYS program has expanded from 19 participants to 109.

Both programs are administered through the Office of Student Engagement at the Yale College Dean’s Office. Dean of Student Engagement Burgwell Howard commented, “Programs such as FSY and ONEXYS dovetail wonderfully with the goals of the Office of Student Engagement — which seeks to reduce barriers for students, and allows them to take full advantage of the learning opportunities at Yale in the classroom and beyond. By providing classroom style learning opportunities as well as peer groups and social connections, these students are able to approach their Yale experience with greater confidence and understanding of the collegiate experience ahead.”

Freshman Scholars at Yale

FSY provides a cohort of incoming low-income and first-generation students with an early Yale experience by bringing them to live and study on campus for five weeks in the summer at no cost to them. Freshman Scholars participate in activities, coursework, seminars, and trips designed to facilitate and enhance their transition to Yale. All students enroll in a writing seminar for course credit and receive mentoring and guidance from Yale faculty and students. Participants meet with academic advisers and representatives from campus resource centers, including the Center for International and Professional Experience, the Writing Center, the Yale Library, Dwight Hall, and the cultural centers. 

FSY participants start their first semester already immersed in many of Yale’s resources, including the close-knit residential college system and Yale’s vibrant intellectual culture. A formal assessment from the Office of Institutional Research showed that the program positively affected participants’ performance in writing-intensive courses and their willingness to access resources as freshmen.

Online Experiences for Yale Scholars

ONEXYS is a six-week online summer math program created through a collaboration with Yale’s Center for Teaching and Learning, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, and mathematics professor Jim Rolf. The free program combines original online content, including videos created by Rolf and his team, with real-time discussions with other ONEXYS students; advice and mentoring from current Yale students; assessments; and challenging math-in-context applications. Students apply the mathematical concepts they learn to a wide variety of topics ranging from gravitational waves to X-ray crystallography to the Doppler Effect. Many of the concepts and skills covered in ONEXYS are drawn directly from Yale’s introductory math courses and are designed to prepare students to succeed in disciplines ranging from economics to chemistry to political science.

“One of the great things about ONEXYS is that we are able to scale up and serve many more students without any loss of quality of instruction,” said Rolf. “This past summer, we almost doubled the number of students from summer 2015. Student perception of their coach and their ONEXYS experience remained uniformly high. So we saw no loss in quality even though we almost doubled in quantity.”

The ONEXYS user experience was completely overhauled last summer. The program now features three tracks, an adaptive and more intuitive learning platform designed to improve student motivation and engagement, and new high-quality video content. Despite the many changes, the ONEXYS team preserved the intimate peer-support structure — with current Yale students serving as ONEXYS coaches — that has been a pillar of the ONEXYS experience since the program began.

“All of the data that we’ve collected points to one thing — the coaches are the true rock stars of ONEXYS,” explained Rolf.  A first-year assessment of the 2015 cohort showed very positive results for ONEXYS participants’ first-year academic performance.

Jennifer Frederick, executive director of the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) said, “ONEXYS takes advantage of digital tools to provide a personalized bridge program for geographically dispersed students, and increases access for students who spend the summer working or training far from campus. I am encouraged by the positive outcomes so far, and the CTL is adding more support resources to help these students succeed academically when they arrive on campus.”

Preparing all students for success

Incoming students are invited to participate in one or both of the free programs after receiving a nomination from the Yale Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Associate Director of Admissions Bowen Posner, who has directed the nomination and selection process for FSY since 2013, said “Yale’s incoming students who have experienced social and economic disadvantage show great potential as leaders and scholars, but preparing these students for success in all aspects of the Yale experience remains a critical challenge. As Yale’s student body evolves, the administration has adapted by reimagining institutional structures. FSY helps ensure that all future students realize success and improve the world beyond Yale.”

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan described the programs as an essential bridge to connect incoming students who have had limited prior exposure to rich academic opportunities with Yale’s abundant resources for undergraduates. “We believe that the Admissions Office’s work doesn’t end when a student is admitted,” said Quinlan. “These programs ensure that all the talented students we admit from remarkably different backgrounds are given the tools required to truly benefit from a Yale education.”