This week, the first nineteen students graduate from the Volunteer Bridge program, UT’s innovative dual-enrollment program with Pellissippi State Community College.
The program is one of UT’s efforts to boost accessibility. It allows invited students to begin their studies at Pellissippi and then transition seamlessly to UT as sophomores.
One of the graduates, Kaylie Thomas, recalls that the Volunteer Bridge invitation was just the opportunity she needed to get her Big Orange college career started after landing on the wait list at UT.
“I had always wanted to come to UT,” said Thomas, of Farragut. Thanks to Volunteer Bridge, “I got to still live on campus and be with all my friends.”
The Volunteer Bridge program started in 2011 as one of UT’s many efforts to enhance cooperation between colleges and universities in the Tennessee Board of Regents and UT systems.
Last year, Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek and Pellissippi President Anthony Wise signed a memorandum of understanding enhancing the program. The program’s timeline was made more flexible and Volunteer Bridge students were allowed to commute to UT rather than live on campus.
For the 2015–16 year, Volunteer Bridge students will be eligible for the Tennessee Promise for their first year of study.
Students don’t apply for the Volunteer Bridge program; they are invited into it after applying to UT. The program is designed for students who would benefit from the combined academic support and opportunities of UT and Pellissippi.
Guided by advisors on both campuses, students must complete thirty transferable credit hours and have an overall GPA of at least 2.5 during their first year of study at Pellissippi. If they meet these requirements, they are guaranteed admission; if they don’t, they are holistically evaluated for possible transfer admission.
Most Volunteer Bridge students are part of a living and learning community in a residence hall. They have both UT and Pellissippi student IDs and can access most facilities and activities.
Seventy-four students enrolled in Volunteer Bridge during its inaugural year. More than half of those are now completing their studies at UT. Besides the nineteen graduating this week, another eighteen from the first year are on target to graduate next fall and spring.
After a drop in enrollment during the 2012–13 and 2013–14 academic years, Volunteer Bridge expanded dramatically this year, with 167 students currently enrolled in their first year of the program.
Recent improvements to Volunteer Bridge include bus service to Pellissippi’s Hardin Valley campus, creation of a student-led advisory and programming board, and creation of the Volunteer Bridge Peer Mentor Program for new students.
“We are very excited to see our first cohort of Bridge students graduate,” said Jason Mastrogiovanni, director of First-Year Studies. “Over the past four years, our first cohort students have been instrumental in providing feedback for program enhancement. They blazed the trail forward with this exciting program that stands to admit 200 students this coming fall.”
Volunteer Bridge graduates will wear a special medallion to celebrate their participation in the program.
Thomas, who majored in psychology, said she always felt like she had good support from faculty, staff, and fellow students in the Volunteer Bridge program.
After she graduates, she’ll return to UT to earn her master’s degree in education with the goal of becoming an elementary school teacher.
Her message to incoming Volunteer Bridge students: “Being part of the program really sets you up for success.”
Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, firstname.lastname@example.org)