Academic journal article Science Educator

The Case for Summer Bridge: Building Social and Cultural Capital for Talented Black STEM Students

Academic journal article Science Educator

The Case for Summer Bridge: Building Social and Cultural Capital for Talented Black STEM Students

Article excerpt


This study uses focus groups to examine the importance of a pre-college summer bridge program for highly talented black students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Longitudinal data were collected from 134 participants who identified three aspects of Summer Bridge that were particularly helpful: academic, social, and professional. An in-depth approach and emphasis on developing a strong community sets the Meyerhoff Summer Bridge apart from many other orientation programs. Furthermore, by enhancing students' cultural and social capital, the program helps students succeed. The findings illuminate elements of orientation programs that are useful to talented students and offer insight into important means to enhance summer bridge programs.

Keywords: STEM, minorities, summer bridge, higher education, social and cultural capital, qualitative research


An extreme achievement gap exists between white and black students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Although Blacks represent almost 13% of the US population, in 1998 black students accounted for only 7.9% of STEM bachelor's degrees, while Whites were awarded 69.8% of the degrees. Eight years later, in 2006 when those same students would have had an opportunity to complete a PhD, Blacks earned only 2.5% of STEM doctoral degrees (National Science Board, 2008; National Science Foundation, 2010). This inequity in STEM completion rates exists even among well-prepared students and has been attributed to academic and cultural isolation, low-performance expectations on the part of students and faculty, unsupportive peer communities, and both perceived and real discrimination (Gandara & Maxwell- Jolly, 1999; Nettles, 1991; Seymour & Hewitt, 1997; Steele & Aronson, 1995). Furthermore, factors such as exclusion from social networks and lack of cultural knowledge about the academic scientific community may also impede the success of talented black students.

The Meyerhoff Scholarship Program (MSP) at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) has been recognized as highly successful in promoting underrepresented minority access to and performance in STEM fields (Bowen, Chingos, & McPherson, 2009; Building Engineering & Science Talent [BEST] , 2004; Chemical Sciences Roundtable, 2003; College Board, 1999; Gándara & Maxwell-Jolly, 1999; Gordon & Bridglall, 2004; Koenig, 2009) and provides the setting for this research. The effect of the program is evident: black students who participate in the MSP are about twice as likely to graduate with a STEM bachelors degree (Maton, Hrabowski, & Schmitt, 2000; Summers & Hrabowski, 2006) and are five times more likely to go on to the PhD than similarly prepared comparison students (Maton, Sto. Domingo, StolleMcAllister, Zimmerman, & Hrabowski, 2009). Over 50% of black students in recent cohorts have pursued STEM PhDs or MD/PhDs (Maton et al., 2009). These figures place UMBC and the MSP as one of the leaders in minority student retention and success in STEM (Koenig, 2009). Within this context, the Meyerhoff Summer Bridge is essential. In previous quantitative research of the MSP, students rated it as one of the most helpful program components, giving it 4.5 out of 5 on a Likert scale (Maton et al., 2009). However, little evidence is available showing why Summer Bridge is successful.

This study is the first in depth qualitative analysis of longitudinally collected data and analyzes the MSP's Summer Bridge component. In particular, this research helps isolate the effective programmatic and social elements of Summer Bridge and examines them through the lens of social and cultural capital. By using the Meyerhoff Scholars' voices and methods from grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) and naturalistic inquiry (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), we are able to gain an insider's view of the program which can benefit both researchers and practitioners. …

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