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MassMutual contributes to Bridge Project

By Erin O'Connor

Staff Writer

SPRINGFIELD On Nov. 2 Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) awarded a $33,000 grant to the Bridge Project, a program offered by Westfield State College (WSC) and the Dunbar Community Center.

" WSC professors would not be able to do this program without the funding," Cherylyn S. Hatchett, executive director for the Dunbar Community Center said to The Reminder. "This is for people who don't feel comfortable going to school or don't feel they can do it, we provide a space that people are comfortable in, we are a bridge." The Bridge Project, located at the Dunbar Community Center, provides opportunities to help students overcome obstacles that might prevent them from considering college. It's goal is to increase the number of teachers and professionals from Springfield. Upon completion of this program students matriculate into a four year program at WSC.

Traditional and distance learning approaches are applied at the Center where the Bridge Project offers accredited college courses to a maximum of 50 eligible, ethnically different students from various social and economic backgrounds in and around the Mason Square neighborhood.

"A lot of youngsters have lost that dream," Ron Copes, corporate vice president for community relations at MassMutual said. "They can't see beyond their block. It is a true partnership that MassMutual is a part of and a good recipe for success. We are coming together to give youngsters an opportunity through the Bridge Program to increase the horizons of what they dream."

The project was proposed by WSC staff members Kamal Ali, assistant dean of Multicultural Development, the current project director and dean of Academic Affairs Robert Bristow, and Jon Conlogue, director of Residential Life.

The first year of the project provided 30 students with courses to prepare them for college.

Development of the project was initiated when former WSC President Vicky Carwein was at the college and continued through the support of Barry Maloney, the current interim president.

"Carwein wanted to be a part of a new approach and we brought her to the Dunbar Community Center and began talking about how to make this," Ali said.

"The common goal is opportunity. WSC has along history of providing this opportunity for women and for African Americans," Maloney said. "We continue that spirit today with the help of Dr. Ali and we are proud to be a part of this partnership. Students from this city in May can walk across the [Graduation] platform."

Ali said development of the program was a result of serious concern with the lack of teachers of color that are in the school class room.

"There is a huge education major at WSC every year at graduation more than 97 percent are white females," Ali said. "The school system is in dire need of teachers of color."

Recruitment for the Bridge Project is done through community agencies and churches.

"I always wanted to submit a relationship between the college and the city. There is no formal relationship other than this program," Ali said. "We want to graduate a lot of students from my zip code, 01109."

The courses offered in this program include Computer Software, Critical Thinking, English Composition, Basic Writing and Perspectives on Institutional Racism taught by Ali, a proffesor at WSC for 26 years.

"It is to prepare the students to do well," Ali said. "Identify the students early on and preparing a rigorous Baccalaureate in education."

Eligible students are either, a) first-generation college students; b) low income students as determined by federal low-income standards; c) learning disabled; or, d)residents of the target area, or any combination of these.

WSC professors include classroom teaching as well as online offerings, the latter on an "as-ready" basis arrived at through a combination of focus workshops and face-to-face training.

The coursework is developed and supported by the Center for Instructional Technology (CIT) at WSC. It is supported by a wide array of student support services that include personal and academic counseling, tutorials, mentoring and enrichment activities.

"Westfield is the best kept secret, academically. We have taken the lead. The program is about to be duplicated," Ali said.

For more information about the Bridge Program call the Dunbar Center at 788-6143.