By Emma Culpeper
When Brad Dalgleish dropped out of high school in grade 9, he didn’t imagine that he would be graduating from the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Science 14 years later.
“The Academic Bridging Program changed the trajectory of my life,” says Brad. “In one course, I moved from a high school dropout to attending the greatest university in Canada.”
After working for nearly a decade in the grocery industry, Brad was looking to make a change. He was surprised to learn that U of T’s Academic Bridging Program could provide a pathway to university studies for someone who hadn’t completed high school. He attended an information session and immediately felt drawn to the program. “I was shocked by the diversity of Bridging students and the many individuals like myself who had many years of experience working,” says Brad.
The Millie Rotman Shime Academic Bridging Program, located at Woodsworth College on U of T’s St. George campus, marks its 55th anniversary this year. Launched in 1967 as the Pre-University Program, it was renamed the Millie Rotman Shime Academic Bridging Program in 2000 with the generous support of the Rotman family.
The program offers an alternative entry point into university for those who’ve been away from school for some time and don’t necessarily meet U of T’s requirements for direct entry. The program helps to bridge the gap between a student’s prior education and the academic expectations of university-level course work. Those who successfully complete the program are admitted to the Faculty of Arts & Science and are on track
to pursue an Honours Bachelor of Arts or an Honours Bachelor of Science degree program.
Academic and Financial Support
Entering university after being away from school for many years felt a bit intimidating for Brad, but Woodsworth’s academic supports helped to ease his transition. Bridging students have access to academic advising, a learning strategist and study skills seminars that prepare students for university-level reading, writing and research. Brad says these supports gave him the skills he needed to succeed. “The seminars on study skills and time management were critical to my success,” he adds.
Bridging students can also access services available to all other undergraduates on campus, including U of T’s Accessibility Services which provides accommodations for students with disabilities. Brad cites Accessibility Services as another key factor to his success. Through their seminars and training, he gained additional learning skills and formed friendships with other students who had accessibility needs.
Financially speaking, the idea of going back to school can seem daunting. Fortunately, Woodsworth College provides financial aid that may cover some or all educational expenses for the Bridging Program.
Brad learned about his financial and academic options by speaking with staff at Woodsworth’s Office of the Registrar, and he is grateful to the advisors who supported him there. “The staff were incredible in connecting me to scholarships and bursaries,” says Brad. “Often, OSAP does not provide enough financial aid. Together, bursaries and scholarships provided additional income that enabled me to keep my focus on my schooling.”
Diversity in Community
One of the things Brad appreciated most about the Academic Bridging Program was the students’ wide range of backgrounds and identities. “I was blown away by the diversity of Bridging students in terms of age, race, and previous educational pathways,” says Brad.
Brad found that, within this diverse group, all Bridging students shared a common goal: achieving a post-secondary degree. He and his classmates quickly formed a community, meeting up regularly to study and share their experiences. “We would talk about how we felt like imposters, and at times, how we thought about giving up,” says Brad. “Many Bridging students have unique life stories and challenges,” he adds.
But the support they received from their instructor and other staff at the College made it possible for them to succeed. By the end of the term, Brad realized that while he and his classmates might at times feel like imposters, their unique experiences and diverse life stories were actually assets they were bringing to the U of T community. “Many had worked for numerous years and brought that experience into their studies,” says Brad. “These experiences made us more appreciative of the opportunity to learn.”
Brad further deepened his sense of community by participating in Woodsworth’s Access Mentorship Program. As a mentee, he built friendships that helped to ground him as he entered degree studies. Later, as a mentor, he enjoyed helping other Academic Bridging students prepare for and achieve success.
A Bachelor’s Degree – And Beyond
Brad completed the Academic Bridging Program in 2015 and graduated as a Dean’s List Scholar in 2021, receiving an Honours Bachelor of Science with a Psychology Specialist and a minor in Buddhism, Psychology and Mental Health. In September 2021 he began graduate studies at U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health where he is thrilled to be teaching one of the undergraduate courses that most inspired him during his Bachelor’s.
When asked if he would recommend the program to others, Brad is unequivocal. “I highly recommend the Academic Bridging Program,” says Brad. “It prepares you for success by providing a community and integrating you into existing supports. If you have a dream of achieving a post-secondary degree, it is an excellent pathway into the best institution in Canada.”
Applications for the fall session will open in May 2022. Please visit wdw.utoronto.ca/academic-bridging to learn more.