Summer Bridge Program offers first-generation students a preview of college life

Adrian Lara-Mejia was just 13 when he started his own landscaping business. With the help of his parents, operators of a Denver housekeeping business, he transformed an effort to earn extra cash into a growing enterprise with 25 clients. His parents also inspired him to take on his next goal: college.

“I've always wanted to study business just because my parents were immigrants, and they started their own business,” Lara-Mejia said. “I was able to see the financial change for them, from working like a 9-to-5 that barely covered the bills to owning their own business. We're doing a lot better now.”

Now, Lara-Mejia, 18, is on his way to studying business in the Anderson College of Business and Computing at Regis. In July, Lara-Mejia took a step toward his goals by participating in the Regis Summer Bridge Program, which gives first-generation college students a look at college life free of charge.

Hosted by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence on campus over 10 days, the bridge program offers students the opportunity to live on campus, meet leaders of university departments, take part in activities like karaoke night and visiting local restaurants and take a course that teaches them about the realities of gentrification.

Program leaders summed up the program this way in information provided to students: “The Summer Bridge Scholars Program aims to strengthen the academic success of participants and establish a more inclusive, diverse and values-centered Regis campus culture, by infusing it with the gifts that first generation students bring to campus – purpose, ambition, a strong work ethic, and belief in the power of education to transform their lives and their communities.”

“Regis is fortunate to have each of these students attend in the Fall,” said Stephanie Colunga Montoya, the associate director of the office.

By the end of the experience, students have two credit hours to apply to their degree. This year, 18 students participated in the program. While most live in the Denver area, one traveled to Regis from California and one came from Texas.

For Lara-Mejia, the experience has been a glimpse into what college will be like once classes start in the fall.

“It's just been very helpful understanding how the structure of college is going to be,” he said.

Lara-Mejia said he quickly made friends. “I have a pretty good relationship with everybody here,” he said. “I'm happy that I'm going to have some familiar faces going into the year.”

The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence intends to expand the program to three weeks in the coming years. In 2021, the office offered an overnight campus experience for one night, but with donor support, expanded it this year. Tap & Burger, a favorite Denver restaurant, donated $30,000 to the program to support the expansion.

Program leaders hope to continue expanding the program.

“We're trying to give them all the avenues that would give them a leg up to start school,” said Fredricka Brown, program coordinator for the office.

Lara-Mejia, who still operates his landscaping business, looks forward to continuing his entrepreneurial pursuits as a college student. He offered advice to future first-generation students who might consider participating in the program next year.

“Go ahead and do it. Take advantage of it. Not only do you get the two credits, but you also get that experience of firsthand college life,” he said. “It's just a very immersive program that I recommend to anybody that's a first-gen scholar because we're all coming from pretty much like the same background. Our parents didn't go [to college] and we're the first ones to do it. So, we might not have that advice … so being able to attend this program is going to be very helpful for when you actually enter school.”

Learn more about the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence.

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