Transitioning to college life can be a challenge, even for the most talented of students. The first few months are critical – students are learning to navigate their courses and campus resources, developing study skills, and forging their first friendships. As educators, we want to set our students up for success, but we also have high expectations for them. The summer bridge program isn’t a new idea, but at Rutgers Business School, we decided to take it to the next level: an intensive summer program that doesn’t end when students arrive on campus in the fall, but continues through the duration of their undergraduate experience.
The Rutgers Business School B-STAR (Business Student Transition at Rutgers) program is a highly competitive program that starts with a six-week summer academic and residential bridge component for high-performing, high-potential minority freshmen who have already been accepted to Rutgers Business School. The second tier of the program includes multi-year tracking and student engagement aimed at supporting students through completion of their undergraduate business degree. The goal of the program is to immerse incoming students from underrepresented minority backgrounds and underserved communities – many of whom are first in their families to attend college – in the campus experience, provide building blocks to aid in academic and social enrichment, give them space to build relationships with their peers and faculty, and prepare them for success at Rutgers Business School and success as they prepare to embark upon careers in the global market space.
The program has two main elements: an academic component, and a social component. During the summer bridge section of the program, RBS B-STAR students complete two full-credit classes over a six week period, usually a general education course like fundamentals of writing and an introductory business course. The rest of the time is spent in enrichment activities focused on campus immersion, knowledge sharing, and social integration. These include leadership seminars, study skills workshops, health and wellness classes, job shadowing experiences, service learning opportunities, and recreational events. Upperclassmen and B-STAR alumni serve as resident counselors, leading social activities and integrating students into campus life. By getting to know these older students, B-STAR participants start to feel like they belong in college and that they too can be successful leaders.
Make no mistake: the schedule is very intense and rigorous. Students are busy from about 7:00AM to 11:00PM, and they spend about 20 hours a week in classes and mandatory course labs designed to complement and supplement course work. By the time they start the fall semester, they are ready to hit the ground running. Our program evaluations show that B-STAR students complete their summer experience feeling confident and much better prepared for their first semester than many in our general student population of 1st year students. They also possess a greater sense and awareness of non-cognitive skills like motivation, determination, resolve, and resiliency.
The RBS B-STAR program helps Rutgers Business School fulfill its commitment to excellence in diversity and inclusion. Our B-STAR students are a highly diverse group: all are minorities who are traditionally underrepresented in the business school, 60 percent are multilingual, and 42 percent are low-income. More than half of B-STAR students are first in their family to go to college. By living and learning in such a diverse group, students see the value of different perspectives for business excellence. As one 2016 B-STAR student put it,
“Diversity, for me, improves crowdsourcing. It informs a story and helps me see other viewpoints, not just my own. It also allows me to appreciate everyone and myself more.”
After the six weeks of the initial summer section are over, students begin their first semester at the business school – but as stated earlier, engagement doesn’t end there! RBS B-STAR is a comprehensive program that monitors participants throughout their academic career at RBS. The ultimate measure of success is graduation, and we are tracking students every step of the way. In addition to the many program enrichment activities and student engagement opportunities facilitated by RBS’s Office of Diversity Programs, every semester students complete evaluations and meet with program staff on campus. From an administrative standpoint, we evaluate the program every three or four years to collect and update data on retention and graduation rates. However, perhaps the best indicator of our success is hearing directly from students who are in the program and are achieving their educational goals. Kala LaFortune, an RBS student in the class of 2017, shares her story:
There have certainly been lessons learned along the way. Some of the strongest determinants of our success has been the unwavering support from the Dean of Rutgers Business School; Dr. Lei and our engaged faculty – we couldn’t successfully facilitate this or any of our diversity programs without their ongoing support. My advice to other university leaders is: don’t go it alone. Administrative and Faculty involvement is essential to long term success. Engaged faculty enrich the student experience in our programs. This is why we’re also focused on increased awareness of our diversity programming efforts, so we continue to attract high-potential student applicants and keep our stellar faculty engaged in their success.
Charles A. Brown serves as Assistant Dean at Rutgers Business School – Newark and New Brunswick. Prior to joining the staff in the Office of the Dean at Rutgers Business School, Charles dedicated much of his career to working with K-12 school districts across New Jersey to improve educational opportunities for NJ youth. In addition to overseeing diversity programs and initiatives at RBS, Charles is also responsible for enhancing RBS’s ability to attract highly qualified students from under-represented minority backgrounds and developing the leadership abilities of minority undergraduate students. Born and raised in Newark, NJ and a proud product of the Newark Public Schools, Charles is also a proud alumna of Rutgers University.
If you have questions about Rutgers Business School or the Office of Diversity Programs please contact Assistant Dean, Charles A. Brown at CBrown@business.rutgers.edu.