Since its inception over a decade ago, the Summer Bridge Program has welcomed high school students to Radford University’s campus for a week of engaging activities that provide a window into the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and careers. The Artis College of Science and Technology host the high-tech campus event for female high school students representing diverse demographics and geographic locations across Virginia and beyond.

Summer Bridge offers active, hands-on learning in STEM and college preparation and career-based mentoring. The annual week-long residential program is an opportunity for rising sophomore, junior and senior high school students to experience life on a college campus and gain exposure to higher education while discovering opportunities to transfer STEM interests into majors and careers. Radford students, faculty and staff organize a week of creative activities and lessons that incorporate science into the daily curricula, including flying UAVs (drones), launching rockets, studying skeletons, analyzing rock formations and building peptides. Students also are introduced to real-world science applications through off-campus trips to locations throughout the New River Valley, such as Mountain Lake, TORC Robotics, Novozymes and the Selu Conservancy.

For some students, it may be the first experience away from home and an opportunity to make new friends and bond with those who share similar interests in STEM. Through generous donations from individuals as well as foundation/corporate partners like Appalachian Power through the American Electric Power (AEP) Foundation, BAE Systems, Project Discovery, Torc Robotics, Greater Lynchburg Community Foundation, C.E. Richardson Benevolent Foundation, Harry and Zoe Poole Foundation, Wells Fargo and Novozymes, students are selected through an application process and awarded a scholarship to cover all costs of the summer program.

This partnership aligns with the mission of both AEP and Radford University to prepare students for in-demand careers in STEM fields. By increasing the pipeline of STEM students and graduates, Appalachian Power and Radford University are meeting a critical need in Virginia and throughout the nation and world to fill jobs related to STEM. Through the Summer Bridge Program, we are excited to specifically prepare women, who are underrepresented in STEM careers, for these important positions.

Amanda C. Cox, External Affairs Manager, Appalachian Power

For Jasmine Y. Jackson-Akers '13, D.O., an internal medicine physician in Danville, Virginia, Summer Bridge helped solidify her career goals and college choice while she was a high school junior.

“I was interested in being a biology major and joining the Premed Club at Radford University. I thought [Summer Bridge] would be a great opportunity [to include on] my college application,” says Jackson-Akers. “One of my teachers at William Fleming High School (Roanoke, Virginia) told me about [Summer Bridge] because she knew I was interested in a STEM career (physician).” After graduation, Jackson-Akers attended Radford University and majored in biology.

She credits Summer Bridge with bonds formed with fellow STEM majors and faculty, which led to research and leadership opportunities while at Radford. Before graduating, she also was a teaching assistant for the Summer Bridge Program. “Summer Bridge is very beneficial [for] young women, especially those in underserved areas — to know that they can go onto STEM careers and that these are not just fields for men. This program allows for more young women to go to college and become more confident in themselves. It allowed me to see how it felt to be away from home for the first time…a chance to be independent prior to the start of college. I went to Radford University with the dream of going to medical school and becoming a physician. That dream is a reality,” says Jackson-Akers. 

Summer Bridge, thanks to the generosity of the program’s supporters, continues to grow with a mission to encourage, empower and inspire young women to pursue degrees and careers in STEM. It is a figurative bridge to new opportunities and a place where like-minded students come together to chart their goals and dreams of real-world possibilities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.