Concluding their year of study at the University of Chicago, students who earned the Graham School’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) Bridge Scholarship for 2017–18 received certificates of achievement and congratulations at a luncheon held in their honor at the Chicago Theological Seminary on May 21.
“Our goal has been to support each one of you in your endeavors to be the most successful you can be,” said Chris Guymon, interim dean at the Graham School, in introductory remarks. “Today we honor you and are eager to hear about your year at the University of Chicago and the experiences you’ve had while here.”
A merit-based, full-tuition award for graduating seniors of HBCUs and HSIs, each Bridge Scholarship recipient enrolls in two courses per quarter while at the University of Chicago, earning a total of 600 units of credit for the academic year. Eligible to take graduate or undergraduate level courses in the University’s graduate divisions and schools, students are encouraged to develop ties with faculty mentors and take advantage of the opportunity to hone their research skills and academic interests.
“A few years ago, a group of us at the Graham School sat down and started talking about the sort of project we’d all be very interested to focus on,” said Guymon. “And the outcome of these discussions was this program, where we invite students to the University of Chicago for one academic year to study not only with great faculty but also with great students. It seemed to us like an incredible opportunity to share what we have with others who might not necessarily see the University as the right place for them or even a possibility.”
A core benefit of the program is the opportunity it gives students to explore. Whether they’re seeking to dive deeper into a discipline they have already made advances in or to explore and experience professional schools like the Harris School of Public Policy or the School of Social Service Administration (SSA), Graham School advisors are eager to guide the students through their year at the University of Chicago in the way that best suits their needs and interests.
“This program was designed to help talented students continue to explore,” said Mary Daniels, Graham School associate dean with primary oversight of the program. “One of the things that the Graham School stands for is making the University a warmer, more accessible, and a more welcoming place for all different kinds of students. I love that that’s part of our mission, and I’m so happy Chris Guymon has given his support to make this program a reality for the past two years.”
Fifty percent of the 2016–17 cohort has matriculated to graduate programs at the University of Chicago, while this year’s cohort will have students enrolling both at programs at the University and elsewhere.
Edoardo Ortiz, a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico who will start at Harris this fall, said he arrived at the University of Chicago not entirely sure what his future held. While he knew he wanted to pursue something at the graduate level, he also wanted to move in a direction that would enable him to have a positive impact back home in Puerto Rico.
“It was a great environment for me to figure out exactly what I wanted to do,” he said. “I realized I wasn’t the only one with a cause they’re passionate about and who wanted to turn that passion into a career. Finding that here at the University of Chicago was such a rewarding experience and totally shifted the way I viewed what I’d do next.”
Jori Fortson, a graduate of Howard University who will pursue a master’s in public health, also arrived at the University looking for clarity regarding what path she might pursue for her graduate studies. Approaching the experience with an open mind, she took classes at Harris and SSA, but she also explored coursework in the Biological Sciences Division and Human Rights Department.
“Being able to explore so many different avenues of what public health could look like was really valuable when it came to making my decision,” she said. “One of the most impactful classes I had was Health and Human Rights. Being able to go to office hours and pick people’s brains about the work and research they’ve done was really influential in shaping how I want my future career to look.”
Growing up a mere six miles due west of Hyde Park, Selena Hernandez, a graduate of University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), described what seemed to her the enormous imaginary distance separating her community from the University of Chicago. The feeling of overcoming a tremendous boundary in her life just by arriving as a student at the University was something she viewed as an immediate and major accomplishment.
“Despite growing up in Chicago, I think I’d spent maybe one day in Hyde Park my whole life,” she said. “So for me the biggest concern was about the type of experience I’d have at the University. I had prepared for academic challenges, but I also worried about finding peers I could connect with and who had similar experience to me. I really didn’t expect to make so many friends while here.”
Of the many feelings that brought this year’s cohort together, among the most important seemed to be a sense of pride for their accomplishments and a deep feeling of camaraderie, both with their Bridge Scholarship peers and also the broader UChicago community with whom they spent the past year. Whether they will be returning to the University in the autumn or pursuing graduate studies at another institution, the knowledge gained over a year spent exploring their academic interests, plus the life-changing empowerment many said they felt after having been part of a world-class research university, will importantly shape both the direction their lives are set to take and the companions with whom they will carry out that journey.
“The experience has been transformational for me,” said Alejandra Merlos, a UIC graduate starting at the SSA next year. “As an immigrant who came here speaking no English when I was a teenager, I feel like this experience has opened so many doors for me. It’s been both empowering and life changing.”