The following story is part of The Globe’s back-to-school content for fall 2022.
When Belen Castro Ruiz first enrolled at Salt Lake Community College, it was difficult to adjust to college life.
“Most of my friends didn’t want to go into higher education, so I felt alone,” said Ruiz, a second-year student majoring in education.
So, Ruiz joined the Bruin Scholars, a program designed to support first-generation, undocumented, transitioning-out-of-foster care and nontraditional students, as well as students who could want help figuring out higher education. It gave her the chance, she said, to feel connected to her education and the peers around her.
“Bruin Scholars introduced me to resources that helped improve my college experience and social life,” she said.
Erin Stirling, assistant director of the Orientation and Student Success office, said Bruin Scholars exists to help students who would otherwise not feel like they belong in higher education.
“We’re here to holistically help students and be their support system,” Stirling said. “We want students who want to receive that extra help, and we aim to provide that at each campus.”
Bruin Scholars has dedicated staff and student peer mentors to guide students toward academic success, providing opportunities for students to connect with each other and hosting events to enhance incoming students’ sense of belonging, Stirling explained.
The program is a part of SLCC’s Orientation and Student Success office. Students can participate in the program’s events at the Taylorsville Redwood, South City, and Jordan campuses.
After a quick application, students participating as Bruin Scholars will be expected to complete English and math requirements until the requirements for their program of study have been met and attend at least two campus events outside of the classroom. Additionally, they will meet with a Bruin Scholars advisor to set academic goals and check in throughout the semester, giving participants an increased support system to ask questions to and connect students to the right resources.
Student peer mentors will also organize weekly student success group sessions, like study sessions, where students can collectively work on assignments and engage in tutoring.
Sofia Herrera, a peer mentor technician for Bruin Scholars, said she values how her work with the program makes a difference. Peer mentors contribute to the program by creating and hosting events that encourage social interactions. These can vary from study sessions, skill workshops, holiday parties, transfer events and graduation celebrations.
“We want to be the glue that connects students from marginalized groups to the college,” said Herrera, who is studying social work. “Sometimes, it feels like college isn’t built for us, so we want to create that sense of community here.”
Bruin Scholars applications can be found on the Orientation and Student Success webpage. Students can also learn more information by visiting one of the office’s three in-person locations at the Taylorsville Redwood, Jordan and South City campuses.