Polsean asked students to work as teams to pool knowledge and brainstorm recommendations for each other about strategies that could help them make a good start to the year.

“Even through you’re worried about these new challenges, you’ve done these things before. You have so many skills already that you’ve practiced at other times in your life,” Polsean reminded participants, after they shared some super practical ideas for how to be organized, how to learn a new campus, and things to remember when taking tests and writing papers.

The exercise set the stage for the research presentation by social work professor Cynthia Lietz, principal investigator for the Bridging Success program and senior associate dean of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions, and ASU junior Breanna Carpenter, a social work major who was in the first Bridging Success Early-Start cohort.

Lietz and Carpenter engaged students in a discussion of 10 protective factors that empirical research shows support resiliency: social support, insight, creativity/flexibility, initiative, commitment, humor, communication, boundary setting, morality/spirituality, and appraisal.

Students talked insightfully about ways they’d drawn on these coping practices: “I grew up around bad influences, but I don’t practice any of them” (boundary setting); “I didn’t grow up that well but could laugh about situations” (humor); “I felt safer at school and built a sense of belonging there” (social support).  

“Our risk factors don’t determine us, and plowing through can make us stronger. I know that challenges in my life have made me who I am today. I’m glad of who I am and the part they played in my story. I wouldn’t want to take that out of my experience,” Lietz shared about her own life.

As a takeaway, she asked students to remember “We cannot and should not put an upper limit on what someone is capable of — instead, embrace what’s possible.”

Talking with students at the end of that afternoon about changes they saw in themselves over the week of Early-Start was revealing.

“That first day, honestly, I was kind of terrified,” freshman Emily Rose Vanbenschoten recalled. “I knew by the time I was about five years old that I wanted to go to college,” says the computer science major, who was legally independent and living on her own well before graduating from high school. “But the reality that college was happening for me didn’t hit me until I set foot on campus. Suddenly it was present tense; that’s a bit of a mental shift.

“Now I feel so much better! I have friends!” she exclaimed with joy and confidence, as she turned to her side and shared a laugh and fist bump with fellow Bridging Success participant Mona Artis. “I’m feeling so prepared and grateful to be part of a caring, supportive group.”

Artis, who is majoring in journalism and transferred to ASU from GateWay Community College, said she came into the program wondering about how things will work at ASU and whether it’d be more difficult academically. 

“This program was like having VIP access to all the resources ASU has to offer! I feel equipped and a bit more confident,” she explained. “Though the program is built around the needs of new freshmen, I got to review some things, and I got to know the Tempe campus, which I wasn’t as familiar with as Downtown.”

Did the peer mentors play a big part in that?

“The peer mentors were great! They are in the middle between an adult and a peer like you. The experience makes me want to be that peer mentor next year who helps somebody else out,”

Kian Anderson, an exploratory freshman interested in kinesiology, said he went into the Early-Start experience without really having expectations. 

“I was hesitant and a little shy at first but then enjoyed participating in all the discussion, and I really connected with my suite mate. Understanding that we have this supportive community and connections, it’s made me even more excited to start classes.

“I know the workload will be tough, but balancing that is what makes the best memories,” reflected Anderson, who as a student at Flagstaff’s Coconino High School juggled dual enrollment and AP classes, sports, a part-time job, and home life. “It was hard, but the challenge made it a good time.” 

Anderson was pumped that the night before he had gotten a ticket through devil2devil (a private social networking tool for incoming Sun Devils) to go with some other students to the Diamondbacks’ game — his first.

“I’m super excited for the nightlife of a big city. That was amazing,” he marveled. “I actually already feel like I belong here.”

ASU invites (and encourages) any enrolled students who self-identify as alumni of foster care — whether they’re new freshmen, transfer students, or continuing students at any level — to connect with the Bridging Success programs and community by contacting program coordinator Justine.Cheung@asu.edu in the School of Social Work.

Maureen Roen

Editorial and communication coordinator, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts