Piled inside of a room on the seventh floor of Gerri C. LeBow Hall last Friday, 20 Philadelphia middle-schoolers did their best impression of college students. On the final day of Drexel University’s inaugural Camp BRIDGE, they had been asked to create phone apps and present their theoretical products before a standing-room-only crowd of family, staff from the LeBow College of Business, and the counselors who had guided them through the past two weeks — college students themselves, from Drexel’s BRIDGE program.
The apps ranged from potentially life-changing (one group pitched Restaurant Alert, which would keep those with medical conditions or allergies safe while eating out) to almost certainly life-changing (two addressed phone storage and another offered customizable emojis). Each group of three or four campers had support from their BRIDGE mentors, and each one was beaming when they finished their presentations. They may be several years away from college life, but their first taste was a success.
“Watching them come in the first day as shy individuals, compared to where they are now, loud and boisterous, it’s been a heartwarming experience,” said KeShaun Hinmon, a junior accounting major in LeBow and one of the handful of students who volunteered to serve as camp counselors over the past two weeks.
Camp BRIDGE, which met each morning for two weeks beginning July 31 and was funded by TD Bank, aimed to open children from the neighboring communities up to the college experience, and to improve their skills in areas such as self-efficacy, critical thinking, creativity and motivation. The camp was a natural outgrowth of the BRIDGE program, whose mission, assigned by its name, is to Build Relationships in Diverse Group Experiences by supporting underrepresented students.
“Camp BRIDGE gave LeBow staff and faculty a chance to stretch ourselves in a way we had not before, and provided the mentorship opportunity for the BRIDGE students that we had hoped for,” said Rebekka Shepherd, LeBow’s assistant director for program innovation and development. “The kids who participated were engaged and energized, and there were more than a few tears when the staff, BRIDGE mentors and kids said their goodbyes on the final days.”
Over the course of two weeks, the students performed self-assessments and team-building exercises, toured the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University, received lessons in social media and financial literacy, and got familiar with a college campus. Their favorite spot at Drexel? The Urban Eatery, of course.
In one class focused on self-worth, the students made word collages that described who they are and who they want to be. Despite their relatively young age, they included words like “leader,” “beautiful” and “confident,” said Porsche Johnson, assistant director of the BRIDGE program.
“I believe this project set a foundation for self-appreciation and I hope the students carry those visions of themselves throughout the academic year,” said Johnson.
Throughout the two weeks, the kids showed off impressive teamwork and “unbelievable minds,” said Allan Gichohi, a BRIDGE student majoring in finance and mathematics. He dropped by the camp in between working on research.
“When I heard about this I thought I needed to dedicate some time to it,” said Gichohi.
It turned out to be well worth the time, he said. Despite middle-school students being a new age group for LeBow’s staff to work with, the camp was a rewarding experience for everyone involved. The LeBow students and staff are hoping the camp continues next summer and some of this year’s participants will return.
“Interacting with the BRIDGE student mentors gave them an important glimpse of what college life looks like — even if for some the takeaway was that their ID cards can buy them Starbucks — and how they can attain it,” said Shepherd. “It’s these types of relationships that can make all the difference to a child as they plan out the next few years of their lives.”
At the end of the camp, the LeBow staff asked the young students what they had learned over the course of the previous two weeks. One felt less shy and another felt stronger. One had learned how to spend money wisely, and another now knew that independence is key to staying out of trouble. One child, clearly impressed with the BRIDGE students, said, “I can achieve greatness just like my counselors.”
And because it was, after all, a summer camp for middle-school kids, one camper had a more practical response: “I learned that I can do a handstand.”