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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, June 16, 2024

Inaugural Bridge-Year fellows take off in high spirits

The Tufts Bridge-Year Service Learning Program, a program that provides students with a year of community service opportunities before they begin their academics at Tufts.

As pre-orientation students and staff roamed the campus in late August, a different orientation was beginning for 15 new members of the Tufts community. These students are the inaugural class of the Tisch College's 1+4 Bridge-Year Service Learning Program, a gap-year program unveiled in February 2014. As members of the 1+4 program, these students dedicate the first eight to nine months of their Tufts careers to learning and volunteering at various service sites abroad.

The program selected three international locations this year, in partnership with three host organizations: Amigos de las Américas in León, Nicaragua, United Planet in Madrid, Spain and Global Citizen Year in Santa Catarina, Brazil. This is a change from an earlier plan for the program; according to a Nov. 19, 2014 article in the Daily, students would also have the option of working at several domestic locations. 

The inaugural class' projects will include community health and nutrition in Nicaragua, child development and education in Spain and wildlife preservation or organic farming, as well as social entrepreneurship projects in Brazil, according to their website biographies.

Dean of Tisch College Alan Solomont explained that the 1+4 program recognizes the value of a structured gap year as a way to prepare students for success in college and in life.

Tisch College is thrilled to be spearheading the Tufts 1+4 program, which will have a tremendous impact on our students and on the communities where they are living," he told the Daily in an email. "Through service work, reflections, leadership development and community immersion, our Fellows will return to campus with newfound insights, knowledge and perspectives that will strengthen their academic studies and our university community."

According to Tufts 1+4 Program Administrator Jessye Crowe-Rothstein (LA '05), these 15 fellows were selected through a written application and an interview process. This ensures that each student is placed into a service project and location that matches their interests and experiences, she said.

The program costs $33,000, a figure that includes housing, transportation, meals, a monthly stipend and Tufts-related activities, but Crowe-Rothstein noted that all students are encouraged to participate, regardless of their financial need. Students who apply are eligible for Tufts financial aid, according to the program's website.

“One of the main goals of the program is to ‘democratize the gap’ and make this an opportunity that all Tufts students can take advantage of,” she said.

Program participants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents due to visa restrictions, according to the program's website.

Crowe-Rothstein said she designed the program's orientation to be filled with typical community-building activities for first-years, such as painting the cannon, as well as participating in intensive workshops and panels to prepare them for the challenges ahead.

These sessions, led by Tufts faculty and staff, covered topics ranging from cultural adaption to blog-writing tips, according to Crowe-Rothstein. The fellows also attended two sessions of the required academic writing course that they will be taking online throughout the year, which is intended to allow them to reflect on their experiences abroad and integrate their service with academics, Crowe-Rothstein said.

Crowe-Rothstein also said the students were able to form close friendships with one another during the orientation program.

“I was so impressed by the group of students we had and how quickly they bonded ... and how well they were able to take in [the information] and really support one another," Crowe-Rothstein said. "When you have a group of 15 strangers, you never know what the social dynamics will be like."

In addition to the on-site support from the service organizations, the fellows receive a wide range of support from the school throughout their time abroad. According to Crowe-Rothstein, the fellows will have weekly Skype meetings with her, along with interacting with their professor of the writing course and other Bridge-Year fellows through the online class.

According to Crow-Rothstein, she also will be in communication with the host organizations in order to help with any issues that arise. Once the fellows return to Tufts, there will be a post-service capstone retreat that will allow students to focus on reintegration, reversing culture shock and learning how to apply their experiences abroad to their college experience, she said.

While the fellows just left for their respective sites, the program is working closely with the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement to evaluate what the Tufts 1+4 program can improve upon for next year.

According to Crowe-Rothstein, new developments are already underway for the future of the program. The program staff has added a domestic location in Washington, D.C. and is currently looking for service partners there, she said.

One fellow, Daniel Lewis, who is located in Santa Catarina, Brazil working on the social entrepreneurship project, described the orientation experience and his feelings towards going abroad in the 1+4 program blog. According to Lewis' post, he left orientation in high spirits, feeling prepared to begin his abroad experience. 

“These past seven days have had more laughter, friendship and growth than should be physically possible," he wrote in the blog. "Now, we are thousands of miles away from each other, but with only a week’s worth of living together, we are all still in each other’s hearts... Now comes the hard part, now comes our part.”