The Cougs Rise bridge program is off the ground, with a newly hired director and another $1.32 million in funding recently announced.

Ray Acuña-Luna will serve as director of the program, which provides support for 180 low-income and first-generation students from five Washington high schools planning to attend Washington State University. Acuña-Luna joins Cougs Rise after serving as academic coordinator and retention specialist for WSU’s College Assistance Migrant Program. He’s served in various capacities at WSU since 2010.

“I am ecstatic to be working on the area of access,” Acuña-Luna says. “Cougs Rise represents a unique opportunity to provide critical information to students who might be questioning whether or not college is attainable. Providing resources to some of the most underserved student populations in the state is at the forefront of our land-grant mission. I am humbled to be a part of it.”

Cougs Rise is the third grant-funded Student Success Initiative of the Office of the Provost, which has received more than $9 million in funding for student programs. Total funding for Cougs Rise is now $3.96M over five years.

Cougs Rise students will participate in college preparation and receive mentoring from current WSU undergraduates. Up to 120 first-year students annually who are enrolled at WSU for fall semester will take part in the summer bridge program, which will help them build a network of resources, develop a sense of belonging, engage in academic coursework, and take part in other high-impact practices that support long-term success. Similar programs have been shown to dramatically increase academic success rates and retention rates of first-year students.

“Our goal is to ensure that when a student joins the Cougar family, they receive the support to be successful here,” says Michael Highfill, director of student success initiatives and principle investigator on the project. “From the moment they arrive on campus, we want them to have the relationships, involvement and self-efficacy to take advantage of the transformative experiences WSU has to offer and to be able to overcome barriers they may face.”

Cougs Rise is building on established relationships with five high schools: Bremerton, Hudson’s Bay (Vancouver), Rogers (Spokane), University (Spokane Valley), and Wenatchee.

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