Creation of international 'bridge year' program endorsed

Working group recommends launching pilot as early as fall 2009

A working group appointed by Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman has endorsed the creation of an international "bridge year" program for newly admitted undergraduates and has recommended that the University launch a pilot program with 20 students as early as fall 2009.

The program would allow students to pursue a tuition-free, pre-collegiate enrichment year focused on public service outside their home country, with support from the University. The working group, which was appointed in February to assess the feasibility of a bridge year initiative, affirmed the goals of the program and offered recommendations on several key elements, including the establishment of a University office to manage the program's planning and implementation.

In an effort to meet the proposed fall 2009 start date, the University will begin a search for a staff member to lead the office, which will be overseen by Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel. The office will continue the efforts begun by the working group to evaluate program costs and financial aid, selection criteria, organizational partners, student security and other logistical and administrative issues.

"The vision for Princeton's bridge year program is to enable students to gain critical international experiences and perspectives and to bring those insights to campus to share with other students," Tilghman said. "Not only will this program provide students with a transformational personal experience, it will enhance Princeton's deep commitment to the service of all nations and prepare these students to take fuller advantage of their subsequent four years at the University. While much work remains to be done, we are grateful to the members of the working group for their insights and guidance as we move forward with the realization of this vision."

The working group -- appointed by Tilghman, Provost Christopher Eisgruber and Malkiel -- was composed of faculty, students and staff and led by Professor Sandra Bermann, chair of the Department of Comparative Literature. After spending the spring semester investigating what would be needed to realize a successful bridge year initiative, the group endorsed the proposal and provided a sketch of the program's key elements:

• Princeton would launch the program in fall 2009 with a pilot of approximately 20 students, with that number gradually increasing annually, depending upon student interest in the program. Students would apply for the bridge year after being admitted and would begin their work with the program in the fall.

• The University would work with established partner organizations that have proven long-term records of safety and success in running international programs for young people.

• The program would be designed to provide students with a full immersion into their new environment with a strong emphasis on language and cultural training. In the pilot phase of the program, small groups of students would be assigned to a limited number of communities, living with host families.  

• Service opportunities would be located by partner organizations, utilizing their connections with local governments and nongovernmental organizations. These opportunities should be age-appropriate and respond to the host community's interests and needs without taking employment from local residents. Examples may include teaching English in a community school, disseminating health education information in a local clinic, creating art with students in an orphanage or working with other types of community service organizations, engineering projects or research and development initiatives.

• The bridge year program would be available to all admitted Princeton students regardless of their financial situations. The University would cover most, if not all, program costs. Relatively minor expenses would be paid for by individual families, but Princeton would cover any costs that families cannot afford.

"Students participating in this bold initiative will live in an unfamiliar cultural context abroad that should challenge assumptions, encourage innovative thinking and foster maturity," Bermann said. "It will provide a time of service, an opportunity for students to think about working with and for others, and a break from the academic pressure that marks today's intensely competitive pre-college experience. The working group was convinced that such an experience will allow students to begin their formal academic training with eyes that see differently, with greater breadth and depth."

The working group was made up of 14 faculty, student and staff members: Bermann; Kofi Agawu, professor of music; Alison Boden, dean of religious life and the chapel; student Karolina Brook of the class of 2010; Diana Davies, associate provost for international initiatives; Dimitri Gondicas, executive director of the Program in Hellenic Studies; Gene Grossman, the Jacob Viner Professor of International Economics and director of the International Economics Section; Laurel Harvey, general manager for safety and administration; student Colton Heward-Mills of the class of 2010; Nancy Kanach, associate dean of the college; Clarence Rowley, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Sankar Suryanarayan, university counsel in the Office of the General Counsel; Anastasia Vrachnos, executive director of Princeton in Asia; and Deborah Yashar, professor of politics and international affairs and former director of the Program in Latin American Studies.