From navigating across an unfamiliar campus, to being away from home, to learning how to manage academic and extracurricular pursuits—the transition to college can be challenging.

This is especially true if you’re the first person in your family to embark on the journey to an undergraduate degree.

For 160 incoming freshmen, the first day of school will be a breeze thanks to NAU’s Successful Transition and Academic Readiness (STAR) program, a summer bridge program aimed at giving low-income, underrepresented and first-generation college students a head start in their college career.

“More than 40 percent of NAU’s students are the first in their families to attend college,” said Jamie Patton, director of Inclusion and Multicultural Services. “We started with our first group of 78 students in 1988 and since that time have seen almost 4,000 come through the program and successfully transition to university life.”

Over the course of the six-week program, STARs receive specialized instruction, connect with peer advisors, live in a residence hall and together explore the many academic and social opportunities available on campus. They also begin their first semester with six university credits under their belt.

“I applied and was excited for the chance to extend my knowledge and make something of myself,” said incoming Lumberjack Brenda Valenzuela, who discovered the program while browsing the NAU website.

After spending five weeks on campus, Valenzuela couldn’t be happier with her decision to attend. “The program is very diverse and gives you a taste of everything. It’s especially helped me with time management. You realize what needs to be done and what could be saved for another day.”

A student recognition ceremony was held yesterday to mark their completion of the program and to highlight the group’s accomplishments. At the program’s close, a proud Patton congratulated the students on the commitment shown to their education and left them with the following tips: “Continue to work hard, have high standards, ask for help when you need it and always remember you belong here at NAU.”

Now with a summer’s worth of insider advice, Valenzuela and her peers will be ahead of the game come August. While she knows challenges await her, the support provided by the STAR program has boosted her confidence and reinforces her conviction that “education is a priority that no one can take away.”