Elon Bridges Program acclimates grads to New York City at a cost

Bridges

Elon’s Student Professional Development Center offers a nine-week program for graduates in New York and Los Angeles.

For some Elon University seniors, only the New York City skyline, the din of a crowd and the constant rumbling of subway cars can rival the iconic symbol of a cap and gown.

Moving to Manhattan is an accomplishment in itself. Coupled with a bachelor’s degree, it is often seen as the ticket to employment, entertainment and adulthood. The idea was alluring for eight 2012 Elon graduates, and eight more are expected to follow in their footsteps come May as participants in the Bridges to New York program.

The program and its Los Angeles counterpart are organized by the university’s Student Professional Development Center. Ashley Pinney, senior career fellow at Elon, spearheads the transitional course from start to finish. Despite her efforts, last year’s participants said there was much to be desired of the nine-week program.  Meanwhile, no one said they would choose not to go if they had the chance.

“It’s not going to get you a job, but it does provide you many opportunities that a lot of people wouldn’t have,” 2012 participant Steven Whitener said. “Just coming up here, getting into the Bridges program, you’re not going to get a job, but that’s not the program’s fault.”

Going out on a limb, moving to the big city

breakdown Laura Cella said starting out in the country’s most populated city was a childhood fantasy. A vocal performance major and 2012 graduate, Cella joined the program to chase her dream.

“It was kind of shocking at first to realize that I was actually going there,” she said. “It was one of those moments in your life where you realize this is happening, and that was fun.”

Other participants moved to the city more spontaneously. Whitener had never been to Manhattan until November 2011, when he decided he wanted to make it his next home. Sarah Graves, a psychology major and 2012 graduate, also took a leap when heading north.

“I decided to participate in the Bridges program because I was born and raised in North Carolina and went to school in North Carolina, so I knew I wanted something different, something exciting and something fast paced,” she said.

However the transition was decided, participants were on the docket for an intense experience Graves affectionately renamed the Bridges Boot camp.

A time of transition

According to Pinney, the Bridges programs is designed to give students the tools they need to transition into adulthood in a new environment. In the program’s first year, this meant an all-around crash course in adulthood — to the dismay of some participants.

“I was thinking holistically about post graduate life, so we took a cooking class, a self defense course and we did a walking tour of New York City to acclimate to the island,” she said. “But at the end of the day, students want jobs. They don’t care how to make a steak, they want jobs.”

The participants agreed. The allure of the Bridges program was a cost effective way to get to New York with the benefit of networking.

“For me, giving us a place to sleep and having an address for us to use on our resumes was the best thing,” Whitener said. “I feel like transitioning to the lifestyle here wasn’t that difficult. I don’t think they needed to do much to facilitate it. We went on some tours, which were sort of touristy, rather than helpful like learning how to ride the subway.”

This feedback hasn’t gone unnoticed. Pinney has spent the last three months preparing for the 2013 program, and the second year is expected to have many tweaks.

Instead of more lifestyle lessons, the first week of the summer will feature a personalized meeting with a New York University career adviser, more networking events and an improved housing seminar.

“Instead of a realtor coming, we are going to be visiting the apartments of six alumni,” Pinney said. “We’ll be visiting two in Manhattan, two in Brooklyn, one in Queens and one in Hoboken, to see where they live, how much they pay and how much bang they get for their buck. You can’t see what you’re really getting when you look online, you can’t see where the subway is or how close the grocery store is.”

The rest of the summer is spent networking and applying for jobs. Each participant is paired with a professional mentor, who offers advice and contacts related to the graduate’s field of interest.

For success in the city, the rest is left up to the participants.

Worth the cost?

“I’m curious as to whether I can get a similar experience by myself, on my own terms, instead of spending what could be 4 months of rent,” said Elon senior Lauren Ludlow.

Ludlow is deciding whether she will accept her offer to participate in Bridges to New York in June. She said she has heard positive reviews of the program, but there are still downsides.

Cella worked at a restaurant kiosk after Bridges ended. Now she has an internship and part-time sales job. Trevor Dunn, another participant, didn’t find work until January. Graves, who never found employment in Manhattan, was forced to return home.

“Once the program was over and I still hadn’t found a job, I was a little bit discouraged and didn’t know where I was going t live,” she said. “I started applying for jobs in North Carolina. I thought maybe I wasn’t supposed to be in New York.”

Cella said the job searching aspect was the program’s weakest part. According to her, it was pushed heavily in advertising, but no one had a job by the end of the nine weeks.

Staying positive

Participants recognized that with or without Bridges, there is no guarantee a graduate will find a job. What the program offers is career advice, networking opportunities and an assisted relocation process. For all of the 2012 participants, these benefits outweighed the cost. They each said they would recommend the program to current seniors, and don’t regret their participation.

Cella said she never would have gotten to New York without the program. And even though Graves came back to North Carolina, she said her experience in Manhattan prepared her for the professional world.

“Being able to go through the experience of job searching and interviewing with other recent grads, being able to come back to the apartment to talk through it, made the experience worth it,” she said.

This support system is what is drawing current seniors toward Bridges.

“It offers a supportive community that can act as a safety net while I navigate the city,” Ludlow said. “I’m looking to gain new friendships that will continue after the program so I can have a core group of people to be around. But that’s a lot of money, I’m still trying to figure out the answer.”