COSAM News Articles 2022 September COSAM’s Stewart Schneller reflects on enthusiastic leadership, remarkable moments and monumental impact throughout Summer Bridge Program’s 25-year history

COSAM’s Stewart Schneller reflects on enthusiastic leadership, remarkable moments and monumental impact throughout Summer Bridge Program’s 25-year history

Published: 09/12/2022

By: Leslie Leak

Stewart Schneller

Stewart Schneller

This year’s 25th anniversary of the Summer Bridge Program marks a time to celebrate its impact on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in the College of Sciences and Mathematics, or COSAM.

Stewart Schneller, who came to Auburn in 1994 to serve as dean of COSAM, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and associate director of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, remembers those initial efforts that built the foundation for COSAM’s ongoing focus on diversity. An instrumental figure in supporting both the establishment of Summer Bridge and Overtoun Jenda’s leadership of the program, Schneller recalls fond memories of the program and offers his perspective of its success throughout 25 years.

“When I came here as dean in the mid-90s and met with colleagues, we discussed what were some of the things we needed to do to enhance COSAM’s identity—one of those was diversity,” said Schneller.

He established an associate dean for diversity position in COSAM for the purpose of increasing diversity efforts within the college. To Schneller and COSAM leadership, diversity was not simply defined as race, but also the inclusion of disadvantaged students.

In support of these efforts, Schneller talked with Larry Wit, then associate dean of academic affairs, who had worked with Jenda, a professor of mathematics at the time, through the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, or LSAMP, program. Soon after, Schneller had a great conversation with Jenda about the strategic diversity efforts in the college.

“I asked him what he would want to start that he doesn’t have going already, and that’s how Summer Bridge became a reality,” said Schneller. “Dr. Jenda thought the program would be a great way to attract students to COSAM and improve student success. Incoming freshmen would come to campus, live in dorms, meet faculty and participate in bonding activities that would academically and socially prepare them to start their college experience. He began recruiting students at the high schools, and because of his personable demeanor, he easily gained buy-in from parents who felt secure sending their kids to Auburn.”

The program took off, and Schneller soon learned that his task was to be out of the way, letting Jenda lead the program while he focused on the funding component.

Schneller stated they were soon able to expand funding opportunities through stakeholders who had an interest in the Summer Bridge Program.

“There were a group of BellSouth retirees who were looking for ways of being benefactors of something meaningful, so we were able to secure scholarship funding through their partnership,” said Schneller. “That led to our partnership with the Coca-Cola Foundation. They became a major sponsor and provided funding for our drop-in center.”

“One of my favorite memories and a true depiction of the Summer Bridge Program is a photograph of Dr. Jenda walking with bridge students and leading them,” said Schneller. “He is an inspiration—he has a selfless passion to serve and lead others through his actions. Dr. Jenda became a presence in diverse communities, and they knew what a wholesome guy he was. It’s people that make Auburn what it is, and he’s certainly one of those.”

Dr. Jenda walking with students

Another favorite memory of Schneller’s was the Summer Bridge Program’s annual graduation luncheon where guest speakers were invited to attend, and parents got an opportunity to celebrate their child’s growth over the summer.

At the 2003 Summer Bridge Program luncheon, NBA All-Star and analyst, Olympic Gold Medalist in basketball and former Auburn student Charles Barkley spoke to the participants, remarking, “This is even more phenomenal than I thought it was going to be. I think it is really cool how hard COSAM is working to bring more minority students to campus.”

Barkley in 2004 Journey

“Parents would come up to me at the luncheons and say, ‘I didn’t think our son or daughter would be capable of this, and they are’,” said Schneller. “Personally, that was one of the most rewarding aspects of the program.”

Schneller recalled that through the success of Summer Bridge, Jenda was asked to serve Auburn University in a larger capacity as associate provost for diversity and multicultural affairs and in his current role as assistant provost for special projects and initiatives.

“The Summer Bridge Program was a launching point for all of these ingenious, impactful programs Dr. Jenda did—even the SPARK STEM Institute he’s working on today with universities across the country,” said Schneller.

Schneller served as COSAM dean for 16 years before returning to his current role as professor in COSAM’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. As he remains involved in teaching and research efforts at the university, he sees the monumental impact the Summer Bridge Program has had in a relatively short amount of time in Auburn’s history.

“Twenty-five years is a short time frame in the context of Auburn University’s 166-year-old history,” said Schneller. “When I look at the impact of the Summer Bridge Program, through Dr. Jenda’s vision, it has helped us all become more knowledgeable of young minorities—what their needs are, learning their culture, appreciating them for who they are and the meaningful relationships developed with their parents who send us their most valuable possessions.”

“It has been fulfilling for me to see more minorities now in my organic chemistry class compared to 2010 when I resumed teaching,” recalls Schneller. “I also see the example that Summer Bridge has set for other colleges to emulate. Through Dr. Jenda’s vision and the success of the program, Auburn University has improved vastly in the area of inclusiveness.”


COSAM will host events throughout the 2022-23 academic year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Summer Bridge. Additionally, there is an initiative to raise $1 million dollars. These funds will be used by the COSAM Office of Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity to support initiatives such as creating an endowed professorship, providing study abroad opportunities, and expanding scholarship availability for deserving students. To learn more about the celebration and to donate, please visit the 25th Anniversary website.

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