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Summer Bridge programs help student-athletes acclimate to college life.

Cal-Berkeley 2014 peer advisors (from left) Savanna Smith, Stefan McClure, Joey Mahalic, Austin Hinder, Catherine Breed and Nick Forbes helped incoming freshmen get acclimated to college life and the demands they’ll encounter as student-athletes.

When Nick Forbes moved across the country from his hometown of Frederick, Maryland, to attend University of California-Berkeley on a football scholarship, he had worries and doubts common to most incoming college freshmen.

“I moved out here with my suitcase and didn’t know anyone or the way of life on the West Coast,” Forbes said. “Beyond the typical worries about adjusting to college, I was concerned about fitting in to this new area.”

That was four years ago. Now, Forbes has no plans to leave California – he has accepted a job working in the finance industry in San Francisco.

Forbes completed his eligibility after the 2013 football season but stayed connected with athletics as the vice president of the school’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee through the rest of the school year. This summer, he completed the final two classes he needed for his degree and worked as a peer advisor, helping incoming freshman student-athletes transition to college life through the school’s Summer Bridge program.

Summer Bridge is a rigorous program designed to help new students get acclimated to campus, college courses and the busy life of a student-athlete. Cal’s Summer Bridge program, which began in 1973, is offered to all incoming freshmen; out of the 350 students who participate, about 35 are student-athletes. The students take two college courses over six weeks and attend workshops and advising sessions to prepare them to meet the challenges they may encounter as a student. Forbes went through the Summer Bridge program as a freshman.

“That was one of the toughest experiences I’ve ever had,” he said. “Not only was I still struggling to get acquainted with being so far from home and worrying about fitting in on the team, but the course work was very intensive.”

By the time the summer was over, though, Forbes said most of his concerns were behind him and the uncertainty had evaporated.

“The program taught me to not get caught up in the smaller trials,” Forbes said. “I made friends; I learned a lot; I felt much more comfortable being away from home and, most importantly, I decided I wanted to be a peer advisor to help the next class have an even smoother transition than I did.”

Forbes has been a peer advisor for the past four years and has helped dozens of student-athletes overcome fears of isolation and uncertainty so that they can enjoy their transition to life as a Cal student-athlete.

“The program is designed to solve their biggest problems coming into college, and it addresses the number one fear: ‘Will I make it through this first year?’” Forbes said. “By the end of the summer, the bridgees know that, yes, they will make it.”

In addition to mentoring the bridgees, peer advisors also help with the freshman student-athlete orientation at the beginning of the summer in which they speak to the incoming freshmen and their parents about transitioning to campus life, balancing their studies with the demands of their sport, transportation around campus and the city as well as other topics that help them acclimate to life as a college student-athlete.

Chris Grace, an academic advisor who oversees the peer advisors, says the program is designed to teach skills that are necessary in the professional world.

“It’s a great way for them to build their résumés beyond their sport,” Grace said.

The advisors begin their training midway through the second semester, holding meetings, practicing public speaking, planning their weekly seminar topics and developing leadership skills.

“Being a peer advisor has strengthened my people skills and my confidence,” Forbes said. “I’ve really learned how to present myself and be assertive in a way that helped me land my first job.”