The anxiety students face when walking into a college classroom for the first time can be paralyzing.

The fear of meeting new roommates, negotiating a large campus, and learning to live independently can eclipse the dream of a college degree.

Cougs Rise is erasing those barriers to success for dozens of students this summer through transitional programming that gives them a taste of college life and helps them build a strong support network before they embark on their post-high school journeys.

“I was scared about transferring from high school to college, but this week with Cougs Rise helped me realize what it will be like,” said Krizelle Dizon, an incoming first-year student from Bremerton High School. “We have a lot of people around us who can help. It feels a lot more comfortable now that I’ve made friends and gotten to know the campus.”

Dizon is taking part in Cougs Rise’s STEM and Social Sciences track. She and her fellow scholars are engaged in academic activities, classes and programs over 12 days. They head out on a camping trip during the middle of their visit and upon returning they clean up for an “Etiquette Dinner,” during their final week on campus.

Cougs Rise students are first-generation college students from one of five Washington high schools. The summer programming is designed to prepare them for both the social adjustment and the academic rigors of university life. Engaging with faculty is a key element.

“We mix in fun experiments with general chemistry lessons,” said Krista Nishida, a clinical assistant professor who guides the STEM course. “It’s less structured than a regular class, and it gives them exposure to topics they can explore. We introduce them to the lab and the equipment they use. Just going through Alive! they have so much coming at them, but this gives them more of the experience that a college student really has. We want them to be college-ready when we’re done.”

Cougs Rise is a project under the Office of Academic Engagement, funded by $4.3 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education. The summer programming includes four components. The five-week Summer Bridge program allows incoming WSU students a chance to earn 6-8 summer class credits, live in a residence hall and enjoy a variety of programs and activities to develop community and a sense of belonging on campus.

The STEM and Social Science program runs for two weeks, and includes weekend outings, co-curricular, service learning and experiential activities, and connections with peer mentors. Coug Tracks gives continuing high school students a taste of college through a week-long residential experience. The summer programming concludes with a service learning and leadership development trip to Puerto Rico.

Cougs Rise scholars receive advising, mentoring and scholarship support throughout their transition to college. The program is less than two years old, but is already making an impact, helping students gain tools and support to be successful at WSU and beyond.

“I was nervous about making friends, but I’ve made a lot of friends through Cougs Rise, and at Alive!,” says Jada Bain, an incoming first-year who plans to major in criminal justice. “I am getting experience on campus and I feel like I have a support group of people that will be going through the same things that I am.”