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Summer session graphic.

School’s In for the Summer

In the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, Tritons prevail in working toward their degree programs

The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a new era of online learning that has allowed colleges and universities to explore the full potential that remote delivery of services and instruction can offer. While the uncertainty around college campuses has made headlines in recent months, concurrently enrollment in UC San Diego’s remote-instruction summer session has skyrocketed.

The campus has reported that more than 15,000 students have enrolled in summer session this year, up 53% compared to 2019.

“This year, students are no longer bound by geography and can take classes from anywhere in the world,” said Becky Arce, director of UC San Diego’s summer session.

Additionally, in previous summers, it was common for students to enroll in two courses, but this year, students on average enrolled in a total of three classes. Popular courses include psychology, biology, physics and mathematics.

Home desk during summer session.

This year, students are no longer bound by geography and can take summer session classes from anywhere in the world. This is the desk of Jaimee Aguilar, a molecular biology major from Muir College, who is currently in Austin, Texas, but enrolled in Summer Session at UC San Diego.

“UC San Diego students usually leave San Diego and go home for the summer, which makes it difficult for them to commit to attending lectures on campus, especially if they must find short-term housing as well,” said Carlos Jensen, associate vice chancellor for educational innovation. Arce and Jensen added that students also may have more free time because of travel restrictions. Also, job and internship opportunities are limited, thus more students have opted to move forward in their degree program.

Jaimee Aguilar, a molecular biology major from Muir College, is currently in Austin, Texas with family as she’s taking BIMM 134, the Biology of Cancer. “I decided to take summer session to keep my mind focused on school and less on COVID-19,” she said. “When you’re stuck inside all day, school is a great distraction and gives you a sense of normalcy.”

Her cousin is also doing remote learning at a California State University, and they help keep each other on track with their asynchronous classes. Learning at home comes with its own set of challenges, especially with other family members who sometimes forget that class is happening, but Aguilar’s professors have been understanding with recorded lectures and podcasts readily available for any circumstance. “Remote learning has given me more time to read, learn a new language, and cook as well bake new things,” she said. “I’m also glad to be able to be with my family here in Austin, who I don’t see that often.”

Bridging student success with college prep

In addition to an influx of students enrolled in summer session courses, another 440 incoming freshmen are attending a virtual summer preparedness program, up 100 more participants compared to last year. This was the first year UC San Diego’s Summer Bridge Program was offered virtually and thus far, the eight-week program, which has been underway since July 12, has been a success among participants. Also unique this year, Summer Bridge was jointly organized by the Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services (OASIS) and The Teaching + Learning Commons. The two offices’ collaboration is designed to help underrepresented students learn the ins and outs of university living and learning, all while earning up to eight units of college credit.

“The partnership between OASIS and The Commons was formed to empower the next generation of changemakers—by offering academic support, leadership coaching, and other critical services, while helping students find community and personal balance in the university context,” said Elizabeth H. Simmons, Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. “Our preparatory programs such as Summer Bridge are paramount to UC San Diego’s fulfill mission as a student-centered university. These critical bridging programs help students hone their academic skills while earning their first college credits, and they also provide essential knowledge and experiences to make UC San Diego feel like home.”

Summer session staff

A picture from of Summer Session staff from last year’s session.

Program participants enroll in one math course and one Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) course, both of which fulfill university graduation requirements. Academic department partners of the program include mathematics and educational studies, as well as the analytical writing program. Beyond attendance at lectures, multiple academic resources are made available to them, such as Supplemental Instruction (SI) sessions, which foster peer study groups, and one-on-one meetings with writing tutors, who offer individualized support. Students also participate in webinars about campus resources and are paired with peer mentors, who offer them support and community in a smaller, more informal setting.

“The Summer Bridge program provides academic and sociocultural support for students as they begin their transition to the university, and it continues to provide holistic support throughout their time at UC San Diego,” said Susan Rinaldi, director of academic achievement at The Commons.

Usually held in-person where students live in dorms and eat at dining halls for over a month, this is the first year Summer Bridge has been exclusively virtual. The Summer Bridge professional and leadership staff pivoted to develop a comprehensive program website so students can easily access important information and commonly needed forms.

Summer Bridge was established more than 40 years ago at UC San Diego and students stay connected to program though their undergraduate journey and beyond, according to Margarita Lopez, Summer Bridge coordinator.

“With the rich 40+ history of the Summer Bridge program and large alumni base, alumni work just as hard to continue to support the Summer Bridge community within their roles outside of UC San Diego, whether it is through sharing opportunities and resources with students, advocacy, or serving as a panelist for networking opportunities and more. "

Lopez added, “It is such an honor and privilege to be able to be working for this program professionally. I enjoy working hard to be able to provide the best experience possible to students that I see myself in.”

Because making a personal connection with students can be more difficult in a remote setting, the staff has added brief ice-breaker questions at the beginning of SI and workshop sessions so that students can get to know each other, which has dramatically increased the level of engagement students have in their sessions.

Leslie Diaz-Gandara

Leslie Diaz-Gandara, an incoming first-year economics student from Menifee, Calif. participated in this year’s virtual Summer Bridge Program.

Leslie Diaz-Gandara, an incoming first-year economics student from Menifee, Calif., registered for Summer Bridge to help her transition from high school to college as a first-generation student. With more than half of the program complete, Diaz-Gandara has been enjoying Summer Bridge because of the sense of support and community it creates.

“My peer mentor meetings are so special and entertaining,” she said. “I’ve had serious and valuable discussions with my peers as well as enjoy fun activities to just ease our minds from any stress we may have. It’s reassuring to be part of smaller groups like this because it’s helping me make friendships with others who I hope to see on campus soon.”

Although remote learning was a little daunting, the Summer Bridge program offers assistance to all students who are having issues, like providing technical support and grants to help students purchase laptops or increase Wi-Fi speeds. Through the use of programs like Zoom and Adobe Connect, Diaz-Gandara can write on a virtual whiteboard, raise her “hand” during lectures, share screens and more. If she needs further assistance with any of the new material she’s learning, she also attends weekly SI sessions to address specific concerns.

“I was nervous starting the program because I was anxious that it was going to be a lot for me, but I was completely wrong,” she said. “I feel that this program has created a safe and comforting environment for students where I know I have so many resources to help me with personal and school-related concerns. Joining Summer Bridge has been one of the best decisions I’ve made!”