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Newly-launched Bridge to Excellence program pays it forward

Six high-achieving undergraduate students comprise the first cohort of the Bridge to Excellence program. The competitive pilot initiative targets students in the third year of undergraduate studies and focuses on enhancing students’ academic careers through scholarship and professional development.

Rob Siston, left, with the Bridge to Excellence scholars, back row: Jack Zhang, Harrison Kearby and Melissa Sutton; front row: Joyce Smith, Nicole Nassif and Rachita PuriRob Siston, left, with the Bridge to Excellence scholars, back row: Jack Zhang, Harrison Kearby and Melissa Sutton; front row: Joyce Smith, Nicole Nassif and Rachita PuriThe students, from both mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering majors, have received scholarships and stipends that will enable them to participate in departmental activities, specifically research or other project-based programs. Funds were awarded based on academic achievement, financial need, leadership potential and evidence of previous participation in and service to the community and the school.

Director of the program, Associate Professor Rob Siston, describes the far-reaching impact of the initiative. “Bridge to Excellence paves the way for deserving students to participate in campus activities when financial need might otherwise make it impossible for them to do so,” he said.

“Such activities not only augment students’ learning, they often open the door for internships and can even help students prepare for graduate school and land their first jobs.”

Participants will also have the opportunity to attend professional development seminars on topics like networking, time management and applying for fellowships and graduate school to further their career-readiness.

Paying it forward

When alumnus Bob Bero (BS ME '66, MS ISE '69) was a student in the 1960s, he was fortunate to have financial support as he worked his way through college. His motivation to succeed, plus the generosity of his parents, wife and employer, helped him achieve two degrees from the College of Engineering.

After a lifetime of success, Bero remains grateful for the opportunities he has received due to his college experiences. Yet he recognizes that educational expenses can become a barrier to some students.

“For many, the cost of college is a burden that impacts progress in life,” he said thoughtfully. “One way to combat that is through the Bridge to Excellence program.”

In working to launch the program, Bero’s priority was to have a significant impact on students with a special trifecta of qualities—those with needs, motivation and the capability to have an impact on the future.

“The objective was to select students who have demonstrated the motivation and capability to excel, and also are challenged to some degree financially,” he commented.

Filling a critical gap

The department seeks to promote undergraduate student success through a variety of methods, including academic-based programs such as Bridge to Excellence.

“We have very structured programs in the first year, second year and the fourth year,” said Siston. “However, until now we did not have this type of co-curricular opportunity for third-year students.”

Siston will lead and mentor the Bridge to Excellence students during the one-year program. The high-achieving students bring a wide range of research and career interests, and Siston looks forward to guiding them toward further success.

“I am thrilled to welcome such a diverse and accomplished inaugural class and am excited to work with them during the year.”

And from his side, Bero simply anticipates meeting the students. “It will be a pleasure to talk to the students and learn about their interests and achievements when I visit campus,” he said.

by Holly Henley, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Communications,