What drew you back to U-M and the Comprehensive Studies Program?
Harold Waters (A.B. '95): Everything that led me to get my Ph.D. goes back to CSP’s Summer Bridge Program. In Bridge, I felt like I was part of a community of people who were like me. That summer, we made a pact to not let anyone fail. It felt very much like we were all in this together. It didn’t matter how we’d gotten there; it mattered that we succeeded. I got through Michigan, joined the marching band, and got my Ph.D. by learning to deliberately build a community around me.
What value does CSP bring to U-M?
HW: I think CSP allows U-M to redefine merit. You hear people talk about U-M students based on their test scores and GPAs. It’s less common to hear what happened in their four years here. CSP works to impact those four years.
U-M could easily fill its classrooms with students who scored a 35 or 36 on the ACT and carried a 4.0 in high school. That homogeneous group of students would be guaranteed to graduate without requiring a lot of effort from anyone. The admissions office reviewed 52,000 applications last year and narrowed it down to 240 to get the CSP cohort.
They are here because there’s something about them that stood out from the other applicants—something unique that made the admissions officers say, “We want this student.” Our students don’t look like anyone else. They have qualities that will make them successful here, make them leaders, and bring something important to campus. But we can’t just throw them out there. CSP helps students recognize and fill those missing pieces.
CSP students receive guidance and mentorship to ensure their success. "CSP inspires me to share that there's a good possibility that you can get into U-M and graduate, even if you're a first-gen; if you came from foster care or the inner city with sparse resources; or whatever your economic, social, or educational background," says Cherish Thomas (A.B. '09).
Photo courtesy of QuicKnightPhotography
What should people who are unfamiliar with CSP know?
HW: When most people talk about CSP, "support" is typically understood to be synonymous with "broken." That’s a misperception: We are a success program, and we achieve that by supporting our students’ individual needs. CSP is a place where students can take this large university and shrink it down. And if you grew up in the U.P. and graduated with six other students, you need that community. CSP is where you build that.
Students get into CSP in different ways. Summer Bridge is part of CSP, and we have about 20 students on campus who are summer admits. We have fall admits and CSP transfer students. We have students who decide to seek out a CSP affiliation. There’s no one way to get into CSP, and there is no one type of CSP student.
We have a lot of first-generation college students. Most of us who work here are first-gens ourselves. We tell them: If you don’t have anyone at home to guide you through the process, there are people here who can help. We also encourage them to diversify their network. We all spend a lot of energy trying to find people who look like us, and that takes away from our ability to connect with others who will push us to grow.
What are the differences in Bridge between your student days and now?
HW: The size! In my day, we had 63 students. This year, it’s 240. When I was a student, there were no summer athletes. This year, 17 different sports are represented, ranging from field hockey to tennis to football. There were three advisors when I was here. Now there are nine. The amount of energy the University invests in Bridge has grown. In my day, no Bridge classes were taught by U-M faculty. Now, our CSP 100 course is only taught by tenured faculty.
What are your priorities for CSP moving forward?
HW: Getting the real word out about CSP. It’s had this stigma that CSP students are minority students who are not really prepared for U-M. I think there have been periods when U-M has apologized for the program, which made students feel like it was a punishment rather than something that added value to their education. We need to have an honest conversation about what CSP does and what it actually means for students coming into it.
CSP built me, turned me into scholar, and helped me understand the academic and non-cognitive pieces that impacted my education. Our students are very bright, but other things can get in the way: family issues, stereotypes that enter your mind and derail you, being the only student in a class that looks like you. We do everything we can to get our students to the next level, and seeing their success makes me always want to be here.
Harold Waters (A.B. ’95) graduated from LSA with a dual degree in psychology and English, and a teaching certification from the School of Education. He received his master’s degree from Wayne State University in counseling education and completed his Ph.D. in educational leadership with a higher education specialization from Mercer University in Atlanta. Waters’s research focuses on legal issues in higher education, specifically surrounding affirmative action programs, and he has presented his findings at several national education conferences.
His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, or of the University of Michigan.