After completing a six-week Summer Bridge Program preparing them for the next four years and beyond, Stony Brook University’s inaugural Simons STEM Scholars are eager to move back to campus. When they do, they’ll be met with the smiling faces of friends and mentors who’ve made SBU feel like a second home.
“The best thing I got out of the Simons STEM Scholars Summer Bridge was community,” said Spiros Manolas, a member of the inaugural cohort (S1). “Whether that be with my fellow [scholars], counselors, staff, or the amazing researchers that we got to meet, Summer Bridge gave me an incredibly strong and supportive family that will last for the rest of my life.”
The program combined advanced math and writing courses with non-credited workshops, exclusive visits to various laboratories, and team bonding activities, including an academic field day known as the Simons Summer Games, all bookended by a welcome event on June 25 and a closing ceremony on August 5.
The closing was an introspective celebration and a rite of passage marking the scholars’ official status as a cohort, said Executive Director Erwin Cabrera.
“All of these students were chosen for a reason, and that showed in many ways beyond academics,” Cabrera said. “It showed in their character as they helped one another, it showed in their curiosity as we visited sites like the Flatiron Institute and the Museum of Natural History — there was never a time where no questions were asked. As some of the future leaders of academia, that critical thinking is exactly what we helped them harness at Summer Bridge.”
In addition to representing the nation’s highest-achieving students in their graduation class, the S1 scholars have demonstrated altruism throughout their academic careers, Cabrera added. Thus, Summer Bridge was designed to enhance the skills and qualities they’d already possessed. This involved professional development and career readiness exercises, informational seminars with Stony Brook professors who’ve followed the PhD or MD-PhD pathway themselves, and a weekly series that allowed each scholar to develop their leadership skills.
Every week, a group of four to five students would meet with a campus administrator and plan an event for the cohort based on a unique Leadership Objective, including cohort cohesion, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), advocacy, program ownership, and academic excellence.
At the Simons Summer Games, each leadership team performed a series of challenges — from T-shirt designing to Jeopardy — that reviewed and brought together all of the summer’s objectives.
“I wouldn’t change a thing about the program,” said Cabrera. “It’s only going to increase in terms of foundation and vision because the S1s exist. We wanted to make sure it was guided by student voices, because ultimately, it’s their program — whatever they want it to be, it will become. So we’re excited for the S1s to be part of it next year and for the program to continue evolving with each new cohort.”
To close out the first-ever Summer Bridge, the students came together to craft a vision statement that outlined their hopes and goals for the future. “Next year, they will be able to provide support, mentorship and coaching for the students in the new cohort while also being their ‘older siblings’ in STEM,” said Summer Bridge Coordinator and Academic Advisor Natasha McCombs.
— Sabrina Liguori
View a photo gallery of images from Summer Bridge events. Photos by Tyler Mooney and John Griffin.