KIRTLAND — Recent high school graduates eager to get a leg up on the challenges they will face in their academic careers are spending two weeks in a San Juan College program designed to build a "bridge" to higher education.

The LAUNCH Summer Bridge Program -- the letters stand for Learn, Aspire, Understand, Network, Collaborate and Heritage -- helps prepare incoming college freshman as they transition to the college lifestyle.

LAUNCH intervention specialist Ashlee Begaye said this is the second year for the program, which is funded by a Title III grant from the U.S. Department of Education. According to information on the college's website, the grant was $1.9 million over 5 years,

:LAUNCH Summer Bridge Program participants line up their skeleton models after learning about shoulder injuries during a hands on activity on Thursday,
:LAUNCH Summer Bridge Program participants line up their skeleton models after learning about shoulder injuries during a hands on activity on Thursday, June 6, 2013, at the San Juan College West campus in Kirtland. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)

"This is a great, great opportunity for students coming here and they will hopefully leave with motivation and a sense of direction for the upcoming college career," Begaye said. "If they are unsure of what they want to major in, this program will help them narrow it down."

The 16 students in the program include recent graduates from area high schools and high schools as far as Window Rock, Ariz., earning three college credit hours while participating in science and math programs and other activties. The program is open to Native American students attending any higher education institute and is not limited to future San Juan College students.

San Juan College West Campus Director Elaine Benally said the program started out with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, known as STEM, classes and expanded beyond the initial vision. Topics like financial aid, time management and setting goals are also covered during the program.

"The students explore college life by living in the dorms at (Navajo Preparatory School) and by participating in classes," Benally said.

LAUNCH Summer Bridge Program participants learned about shoulder injuries during a hands on activity in a human anatomy class on Thursday, June 6, 2013, at
LAUNCH Summer Bridge Program participants learned about shoulder injuries during a hands on activity in a human anatomy class on Thursday, June 6, 2013, at the San Juan College West campus in Kirtland. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)

The students visited the West campus in Kirtland Wednesday for a class taught by biology instructor Christine O'Toole, focusing on discussions about human anatomy.

Jeri Garfield, a recent Career Prep High School graduate, said her interest in pursuing a career in the medical field led her to sign-up for the program.

The mother of a two-year-old son, Garfield said she has enjoyed classes involving robotics and learning about muscles and bones in the human body.

"(The program) helps me prepare for college and to get an idea of what it's going to be," Garfield said. "It's pretty hard too, I'm a teen parent and education is really big for me and my child."

Last year, the students were given a pass-fail grade for the course based on their final group projects.

This year, students will be given a letter grade based on a LEGO robotics challenge and presentation about how robots are used in every day life.

"We've given them some ideas to think about like how are robotics used in the medical field," Begate said.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @jkelloggdt.