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Striving for Equity

Lumina Foundation funding will assist three key initiatives

Bridgewater State University has long been committed to closing educational equity gaps that make it harder for people of color to earn a degree. Now, a new grant will help the university continue that essential work and not rest on its laurels.

BSU is one of six Massachusetts public colleges and universities receiving part of a $1.2 million grant from the Lumina Foundation. The funding supports three initiatives at Bridgewater: the Summer Bears program that eases the transition to college for students with lower high school GPAs; a new staff position serving those most at risk of not persisting in their education; and the Leading for Change Higher Education Consortium convened and coordinated at BSU.

BSU was recognized for its data-informed efforts to close racial education gaps. University leaders strive to support the success of every student, and recognize often due to systemic racism Black Indigenous people of color are among those who must overcome added barriers to their academic success.

Colleges and universities nationwide must confront those equity gaps, said Dr. Sabrina Gentlewarrior, vice president for student success and diversity.

“Higher education needs to simultaneously engage in educational excellence, support learners that would benefit from additional services, and examine and rectify ways in which institutions of higher education need to change to support all students who come to us," she said. "While BSU has much work to do to eliminate our racial educational gaps, this grant is a testament to the campus-wide work occurring – from the faculty and librarians teaching our students to the staff who support them outside the classroom.”  

Bridgewater is tackling this work head-on and sharing its knowledge with others. The diversity consortium unites 25 schools in conversations and professional development around around data-informed strategies for eliminating racial educational equity gaps.

Specific to BSU, a “student success navigator” will use a case management approach to help Bears access resources essential to progressing toward their degree. The navigator will also work with colleagues campus-wide as Bridgewater continues to identify additional strategies for serving students.

The grant helped BSU expand Summer Bears, including launching a program tailored to the Ricciardi College of Business. This past summer, 153 incoming freshmen completed a Summer Bears public speaking or management course for free and participated in community-building workshops.

“It’s a program that allows students to experience college before they enter,” said Cecilia De Oliveira, director of student success and achievement gap interventions. “It eases their anxiety and connects them to campus resources and environment.  Students participating in the program retain at some of the highest rates at the university.  The retention impact is even more clearly seen in Black and brown students participating in the program.”

It offers a blend of a course and an extended introduction to BSU. Students enter unsure about what a college class entails and finish with new connections, confidence and academic skills, said Dr. Jessica Birthisel, an associate professor of communication studies who teaches public speaking to Summer Bears.

“It becomes this thing they experience together that really helps them form friendships and share an understanding of what college is about,” Birthisel said.

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