Magazine Feature / People

Scholar spends half his life with Bridge Project, returns for more

The University of Denver’s Bridge Project has spent the last 16 years opening up educational opportunities for kids in Denver public housing developments. 

For Mario Santistevan, “the Bridge” has been a fixture in his life since he was 9.

The Bridge Project offers a multifaceted approach to supporting education for young people whose families live in public housing — creating after school, summer, scholarship and adult and family programs. 

Now 19, Santistevan says that while Bridge was always there, he didn’t fully realize its usefulness until two years ago. 

Bridge Project Director Mary Krane explains that Santistevan had a difficult time during middle and high school. After being expelled from two high schools, a 16-year old Santistevan entered the U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Corps, a free educational and vocational training program. 

After returning from Job Corps, Bridge Project staff helped connect Santistevan with the Emily Griffith Opportunity School, where he got his GED. He says he was having a particularly difficult time with math, but Bridge provided the extra help he needed. 

GED in hand, Santistevan was ready to enter the work force. He thought that was the end of his relationship with Bridge. 

Bridge Project staff, however, pointed him a different direction. “No, don’t stop there,” he says they insisted. After seeing statistics on the additional opportunities he’d have with college or professional education, Santistevan took his education a step further. 

Now a Bridge Project Scholar, Santistevan is studying fitness training at the Career Education Center Middle College of Denver. “I’m loving it,” he says. “I like anatomy and learning about the how the different parts of the body all work together.” 

Krane explains that the scholarship program helps students find financial aid resources and provides a scholarship that makes up the difference. Each year the program awards $100,000 in scholarships, primarily to students attending college or professional schools in the Denver area, she says. The students remain in Denver because they are required to volunteer at the Bridge Project for at least 40 hours during the school year. 

Every Wednesday, Santistevan returns to Southwest Denver’s Columbine development as a tutor. 

“It’s a good feeling just to know that those kids look up to you,” he says. “You want to set a good example for them.”

Comments are closed.