Academic Bridge Students Tour State Capitol

Speaker Strauss with Academic Bridge students

UT Dallas Academic Bridge students attended a series of meetings with Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson, Rep. Linda Koop, R-Dallas, Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, and House Speaker Joe Straus, shown above.

The Academic Bridge Program was created 15 years ago to recruit underrepresented, first-generation college students who have good academic performance. The program includes about 160 students from area school districts, who participate in orientation activities and receive ongoing support including tutoring, mentoring and peer advising.

Academic Bridge receives funding from the Legislature and private donors. Longtime supporter Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, told fellow lawmakers about the program and how it gives students the chance to succeed in college.

“Some of these students wouldn’t be in college without this program,” Giddings said. “It says that if you show students you care, if you give them a little bit of help, they’ll do what they need to do. This is a model for what other bridge programs need to look like.”

State Representative Helen Giddings

Rep. Helen Giddings

The recognition on the House floor came at the end of a whirlwind day of meetings the students had with legislators about how the program has increased UT Dallas enrollment from the Dallas Independent School District and adjacent districts.

The students attended a series of meetings with Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, House Speaker Joe Straus, Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson, Rep. Linda Koop, R-Dallas, and Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin. “I’m proud of what you’re doing,” Straus told the students during their tour.

Giddings said she hosted the students at the Capitol so other legislators could hear about the program from those who have benefitted most. She secured the first state appropriation for the program in 1999 and has worked to maintain and increase funding since then.

“Rep. Giddings has been instrumental to the Academic Bridge Program’s success,” said Dr. George Fair, vice president of Diversity and Community Engagement, professor and dean of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies. “Rep. Giddings’ dedication to the program has helped many students graduate from UT Dallas. We are grateful for her support.”

Llesenia Salvidar, the first in her family to go to college, told lawmakers that she applied to Academic Bridge after attending a field trip to UT Dallas where she heard about students in the program helping each other.

It’s a blessing, because without the Bridge program, I would not be going to college. It would be very difficult.

Hailemeskel “Haile” Lakew, a freshman computer science Academic Bridge student at UT Dallas

“That’s when I knew that I wanted to be part of that family,” Saldivar said, a marketing sophomore who graduated from DISD’s Moisés E. Molina High School in Oak Cliff.

Another student, Hailemeskel “Haile” Lakew, said he is grateful for the support, which allows students to live on campus for their first two years. Lakew, who graduated from DISD’s Science and Engineering Magnet School at the Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center, is a freshman. But he’s thinking ahead: He wants to pursue a PhD and research artificial intelligence.

“It’s a blessing, because without the Bridge program, I would not be going to college. It would be very difficult,” Lakew said.

Thanks to the tutoring he received through Academic Bridge, Justin Shaw told legislators that he learned to like math and even works on differential equations “for fun.” The computer engineering sophomore has worked in two tutoring jobs to help pay for his education, which helped him get an internship this summer with John Deere.

“Between the tutoring and the foundation they gave me, it helped me do really well in school,” said Shaw, who also graduated from DISD’s Science and Engineering Magnet School.

Ashby called the program a model. Ashby is chair of the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III, which includes higher education. Giddings is vice chair of the subcommittee.

“We’ve got to reach out to those students who want to go to college but may not have an opportunity if it weren’t for programs like Academic Bridge,” Ashby said. He also encouraged students to “pay it forward.”

That’s exactly what Styphanie Anderson plans to do once she graduates in May. The marketing senior already has helped fellow Academic Bridge students by employing them at the Dining Hall, where she worked as student manager. She now has an internship at JC Penney.

Anderson said she plans to continue giving back to the program that has done so much for her.

“I’m successful because of the Academic Bridge Program,” she said.

Donors Help Bridge the Gap to Brighter Futures

Many donors and corporations support the efforts of UT Dallas’ Academic Bridge Program, including alumni who want to pay forward their gift of education.

“The Academic Bridge Program (ABP) is making a difference in the lives of young people, preparing them for productive futures,” said Gunjan Aggarwal, head of human resources for Ericsson Inc.

Corporations and foundations such as the AT&T Foundation, Goodman Networks, the Hillcrest Foundation, the Michael and Alice Kuhn Foundation, TG, the Carl B. & Florence E. King Foundation and The Dallas Foundation share Aggarwal’s sentiments, joining Ericsson in investing in the program.

“The combination of need-based aid and support services is a solid strategy for helping students succeed in higher education, and we’re pleased to have provided support for this exceptional program over the past three years,” said Sue McMillin, president and CEO at TG.

ABP participants show strong graduation rates, but are also securing internships and immediate employment. Academic Bridge graduates have gone on to work for corporations such as Texas Instruments, Cisco, Ericsson, AT&T, IBM, Raytheon, Fidelity Investments, JP Morgan, Chase Bank, Compass Bank, Alcatel-Lucent and JC Penney Co., as well as pursuing careers in law, medicine and education. 

Garry Miller BS'07

Garry Miller Jr. BS’07, a National Merit quarterfinalist and member of the second ABP class, studied finance and economics at UT Dallas. He credits the program for instilling a standard of excellence and fostering a culture of achievement.

Through his establishment of the Bridge to Our Future Opportunity Fund, Miller hopes to provide assistance enabling “future Academic Bridge Program students to step forward into their destiny” while honoring the mentors who helped chart his path. “As iron sharpens iron, we too, as a collective body, push and motivate each other to attain higher levels and reach for our potential,” he said.

Rosalinda Valenzuela BA'04, MA'08, PhD'12

Rosalinda Valenzuela BA’04, MA’08, PhD’12 was the first ABP graduate to earn a PhD. Although she originally planned on a career in medicine, a professor urged her to reconsider and she earned her doctorate in political science. Today, Valenzuela works for the University as a project supervisor in Academic Bridge, reinvesting in the program that first helped her to succeed.

“The Academic Bridge Program gave me unconditional support and encouragement to succeed not just in school, but in life,” Valenzuela said. “I always share my experience with my students and tell them that success is possible if there is determination and persistence and you never forget your humble beginnings.”

Donations can be made to the Academic Bridge Program in several ways. See details.


Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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