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UMBC’s AETP to build connections through Dawg Days: Winter Bridge

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Academic Engagement and Transition Programs Department will launch a new Winter Bridge program for the Winter 2020 semester. Although similar to Summer Bridge, the Winter Bridge program will be fully online and will focus on building connections between students and staff as the university enters the winter amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Few institutions offer [something like this],” said Director of First-Year and Transfer Academic Programs Dr. Laila Shishineh. “The driver behind creating it was to find how to keep students connected over the winter term with this fall being online. Winter break is long, and this year a lot of students will take winter courses.”

Both Summer and Winter Bridge are completely free, and are designed for first-year students. However, the winter will incorporate a wider range of “first-years,” including students finishing their first semester at UMBC, incoming transfer students and students who will be starting at UMBC in the spring. And, though technically only these groups of students are eligible to apply for Winter Bridge, anyone enrolled in a winter course can benefit from the multiple events and office hours that will be scheduled.

“If anybody wants to hang out in the winter, we are here for that. There will be tutoring in GEP classes, writing and math,” explained Shihineh. ” Typically, it’s your only class, and you are focused, but it’s fast. We will have the academic support in the winter that we have not had before.”

A team of three staff members from the Academic and Transition Programs Office will be running Winter Bridge, planning weekly webinars and game nights. Shishineh listed webinar topics including professional development, networking in the virtual world, involvement in undergrad research, internships, and service-learning. These webinars will be interdisciplinary, connecting various campus departments to students.

Along with facilitating campus-student connections, Bridge staff are working to plan activities to help create student-student bonds; Shishineh emphasizing that both types of relationships are necessary in a prolonged virtual environment. Activities currently being discussed include “Jackbox” party games, as well as meet-and-greets with older students like Welcome Week leaders or peer facilitators. When students apply for Bridge, they are also encouraged to list activities that they would be interested in.

Shishineh summed up the differences between Winter and Summer Bridge:

“It’s three and a half versus six weeks to connect with students. In the summer we only had incoming freshmen participate, so we have to make activities broad enough to [target all audiences]. I think this is going to be a tough winter for all of us. We can bring some positivity into the program in the winter, which we didn’t have to do as much in the summer because it was warm out.”

Jumpstarting a new program does not happen everyday, explained Shishineh, who has been working within AETP since 2010. Winter Bridge, she hopes, will become another opportunity for students to get the help and support that they need.