Dr Bryan Lewallen, Director, Academic Bridge Program (ABP), a member of Qatar Foundation (QF), speaks about nurturing the academic and personal skills that will equip high school graduates to make a smooth and successful transition to higher education
Preparing young people for success, in education and in life, is ABP’s mission. We are providing graduates of Qatari high schools with the skills to gain admission to the best English language universities – particularly the partner universities of QF – and for them to be successful there, both academically and socially.
ABP is a true bridge, in that it is neither a high school, nor a university. Our role is to provide a passage between the two, helping students to develop the abilities and gain the experience they need to make this transition. As much as we focus on building their academic skills, in areas including English, math, science, and computing, the socialization aspect of our work is of equal importance. Most of our students have never been in a mixed-gender educational environment before; many have not been taught by Western teachers. ABP offers a different perspective on education, and provides students with a valuable insight into life at university. It readies them for higher education.
Our program is designed to provide opportunities for students – particularly Qatari students, who comprise about 80 percent of our student body, although the 31 nationalities of our 2015 graduates demonstrate ABP’s international flavor – and we have been very successful in this. Our excellent relationship and communication with universities in Qatar supports and facilitates the acceptance of our students to these institutions, allowing us to pinpoint what they are looking for, and the skills and competencies our students must possess.
Possibly the most important quality our students must have is their desire to enter, and succeed in, higher education. We are looking for students who really want to learn and develop, and who are open to something new and different.
We place great emphasis on improving their reading and writing skills, and their ability to express themselves; this will be vital, whichever university they apply to. And we recognize that universities look to admit students who have set themselves goals, and work hard to achieve them. As well as studying IELTS scores and Grade Point Averages, they look for students who are involved in activities and initiatives beyond academia, and who engage with community service; this defines them as being well-rounded young people. ABP provides all of these opportunities, ensuring our students are excellent candidates for admission to excellent universities.
Students enter ABP with a wide range of abilities, but they may not have the practical experience of conducting scientific experiments in a laboratory; of computer skills; of making presentations; of participating in debates. At ABP, they gain this experience, and they can also participate in our wide variety of clubs, from sport clubs to book clubs to the Model United Nations. Our community service club makes them aware of the value of contribution. And one of the most important aspects of ABP is the feeling of belonging that it fosters. It may be a two-semester program, but our graduates retain a special place in their heart for ABP.
We are a student-centered institution, and by getting to know our students as people, we get to know their different strengths and challenges, and how we can support each of them toward success. It is very touching and inspiring to hear our graduates, through our Alumni Association, share their experiences of ABP, and what it meant to them. It proves that we made a big difference in a short time, and that, through helping them complete the passage from high school to university, we are serving them well, and serving the nation well.
We recognize and respect that our students are young adults, who need to be independent and advocate for themselves, but who also need academic and social support at a pivotal time in their lives. There is a line between high school and university that we must walk, and our course register, allowing ABP students to take classes at the partner universities of QF, helps us to walk it. By supporting students’ development, and giving them a clearer picture of the university experience, it makes them feel that they are bridging two phases of their life.
The experience of our wonderful team of faculty and staff provides ABP with a very strong knowledge base, so my role is primarily to look for new opportunities and ideas, in order to continually refresh and enhance what we do. Next semester, we will offer new classes in a program called Python to students who are advanced in computer skills, and continue our new communication classes, demonstrating our commitment to keeping our program dynamic.
Feedback – particularly from students, who evaluate the ABP program, their teachers, and the quality of learning – is essential in ensuring we move with the times, and we will be striving to reach out further to our alumni, to assess more fully how they feel ABP prepared them for their future.
We are looking to increase our Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with universities; we currently have 23, and we aim to expand this. Through attending the ‘Qatar Foundation-United Kingdom: The Road Ahead’ Forum in January 2015, we met university representatives and could identify the qualities they are looking for in students. Universities with which we sign MoUs recognize a student’s time at ABP as a foundation year, allowing them to directly enter the first year of a program at that university.
We want to provide the widest possible range of opportunities to our students, and increasing our number of MoUs will facilitate access to programs in new academic areas that can benefit students, and Qatar.
Our outreach program is very important to us; beside going out into local schools to promote our program, we also invite high schools to bring their students into ABP, to experience what we do. A key goal for us is to increase our number of male Qatari students. We must engage with them at an early stage – in Grades 9-10 – and make them fully aware of the world that is opening up to them if they work hard and commit to the pursuit of their goals. QF, and Qatar, is providing these students with endless possibilities. We must help them to capitalize on this.
The transition from high school to university is a huge step for students. Educationally and socially, it takes them into a completely different life experience. This is where ABP has such an important role to play. We build the skills of students, but we also build their confidence. And this will ensure they are capable of great achievements, of actively contributing to their nation’s future, and of truly unlocking their human potential.