S6 E1: Supporting Non-Traditional Learners Starts With Respecting Their Knowledge

A conversation with Russell Thornhill and Kathryn Pope, the Co-Directors of the BRIDGE program,  about the support and education of non-traditional learners.

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Episode Notes

For those of us who have been shut out of higher education in the past, the path back to being a successful student is full of obstacles. The right support can make this a little easier, though.  In this episode, we explore this question with Russell Thornhill and Kathryn Pope, the Co-Directors of the BRIDGE program on Antioch’s Los Angeles campus—a financially free program that has helped over 700 students gain experience and credit studying at the college level. We try to answer how best to support each other as we advance in knowledge and power.


Visit bridge.antioch.edu to learn more about the BRIDGE Program, and you can use that website to apply as a student or to make a donation.

This conversation pairs well with our last episode, an interview with Ingrid Ingerson about the Clemente Course and educational trauma.

To learn more about the life and work of Russell Thornhill, read our recent article on Common Thread, “Within Academia and Spirituality, Russell Thornhill Leads Towards Liberation.”

This episode was recorded October 19, 2023 via Riverside.fm and released November 1, 2023. 

The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University

Host: Jasper Nighthawk

Editor: Johanna Case

Digital Design: Mira Mead

Web Content Coordination: Jen Mont

Work-Study Interns: Carrie Hawthorn, Stefanie Paredes, and Georgia Bermingham.  

A special thanks to Karen Hamilton, Amelia Bryan, and Melinda Garland

To access a full transcript and find more information about this and other episodes, visit theseedfield.org. To get updates and be notified about future episodes, follow Antioch University on Facebook.


Russell Thornhill

Kathryn Pope

S6 Episode 1 Transcript

[00:00:00] Jasper Nighthawk: 

This is the Seedfield Podcast, the show where Antiochians share their knowledge, tell their stories, and come together to win victories for humanity. 


I’m your host, Jasper Nighthawk, and today we are joined by Russell Thornhill and Kathryn Pope, the two co-directors of Antioch’s Bridge Program. Bridge is a one-year college credit humanities curriculum that’s offered at no cost to low-income adults.

Since 1999, over 700 students have entered this program, earning up to 15 transferable units of university credit, while studying philosophy, literature, art history, writing, and urban studies at the college level. One of the key characteristics of Bridge is that it’s financially free. Students don’t pay for books or tuition, but how they pay is in the energy and the time that they bring to their studies. And that’s what I’m hoping to talk with Russell and Kathryn about. The question of how people who have previously been shut out of higher education can become students again, and what stands in their way.

I also am excited to ask about Russell and Kathryn’s insights into the very purpose of higher education for people who are already doing important work in their communities. And I’m hoping to hear some stories of students who have used this program to change the course of their own lives.

What can we learn about supporting each other as we advance in knowledge and power? I should say, this interview pairs really well with a conversation I had last season with Ingrid Ingersen about the Clemente course, a similar program that offers low-income adults the opportunity and support to take college level classes in the humanities. That conversation focused in on educational trauma and I’m going to be sure to link to it in the show notes. But I’m anxious to get into this conversation and to learn more about the support and education of non-traditional learners. So let me bring on our guests.

I’ll start with Russell Thornhill. Today, Russell is teaching faculty in Antioch’s undergraduate studies programs, and he serves as co-director of the Bridge program. He holds an MA and a BA from Antioch University, and alongside his teaching, he’s currently a student in our Doctor of Education programs.

Welcome to the Seedfield Podcast, Russell. 

[00:02:25] Russell Thornhill: Thank you so much. It’s so good to be here with you, Jasper.

[00:02:28] Jasper: Our other guest is Kathryn Pope, who serves as core faculty in our undergraduate studies program and, alongside Russell, is co-director of the Bridge program. Kathryn is an alum of Antioch’s MFA in Creative Writing and of the Antioch MA in Urban Sustainability. 

[00:02:44] Kathryn Pope: Thank you. Thank you for having us.

[00:02:46] Jasper: So our first question is always positionality. We feel like at the podcast, and I think largely at Antioch, that your life experiences and also the position that society has accorded you on account of your birth and who you are really influences how you might approach any given subject. So, I want to ask you each about your positionality. But I’ll start by disclosing my own. I’m a white man. I’m cisgendered. I went to college straight out of high school and I have a MFA. I’m also an alum of the Antioch MFA in Creative Writing. I’m Queer, I’m able-bodied, though I face challenges around mental health. I currently have stable housing and income, and that’s about as much as I feel like it’s useful to share. 

So maybe we can start with you, Russell. What would you want people to know about where you’re coming to this conversation from? 

[00:03:40] Russell: Sure. I identify as a Black, gay man, father, grandfather, pastor, community activist. And I have been involved in my community in Los Angeles since 1990, both in my church, Unity Fellowship of Christ Church in Los Angeles, and Minority AIDS Project in Los Angeles, the oldest organization in the country serving people who are living with HIV and AIDS. It was founded in 1982. So, I come with that consciousness in mind as I enter Antioch University to complete all the degrees that you talked about. And I realize that my life in community and my life in academia are in alignment with each other, so as I’m talking about social justice and Antioch University, I’m also working in social justice in community. 

[00:04:38] Jasper: I love how you put that. And actually, before we get to you, Kathryn, Russell, I was hoping you could expand a little bit. You mentioned your many degrees and what you brought with you to Antioch.

[00:04:48] Russell: So I entered Antioch in 2010 to complete my undergraduate and master’s, as you’ve already said, but I’m a believer in the importance of bringing back to the community what you learn in these other environments. I think that when you go to higher education to expand and open up your thinking, and bring some new ideas, and so on, and then bring that back to the community, and you couple it together to be able to support your community. And in my community, I work with people who are living with HIV, people who are living with AIDS, people who are disenfranchised in various ways. I work in the LGBTQI community in South L.A. and I work to enrich, in the ways that I’m able, enrich the lives of my fellow brothers and sisters who are living in community. When I was introduced to Bridge by the founding director, David Tripp, in 2010 and 2011, Bridge became an extension of the work that I do in community. 

[00:05:56] Jasper: Well, I’m excited to talk about who you’ve brought into this program and what you’ve seen them accomplish. But first I want to, Kathryn, bring you into the conversation a little bit more and ask you to start off with what your positionality is and what you think people should know you’re bringing to this conversation.

[00:06:13] Kathryn: I’m a white, cisgendered woman. I also went to college right out of high school. It almost didn’t happen, but it did. And, education changed my life quite dramatically. 

[00:06:27] Jasper: Yeah. Kathryn, I was curious if you could tell us more about your educational history and how it brought you to this work. 

[00:06:33] Kathryn: I was raised in a pretty insular rural community, before the days of the internet. So, we had sort of limited access to information from the wider world. We did have a public library and my mother would give me time at the public library every Thursday afternoon and I was a curious child with maybe a unique cognitive style. And I just devoured the library as much as I could, every Thursday when I was there, because I wanted to know about the world. I wanted to know what was outside the very small community that I was part of, but I also didn’t think I deserved college.

And so, when it came time to finish high school, I declared I’m going to use the public library as my college, and then my parents wouldn’t have to worry about money. I wouldn’t have to go into debt and everything would be great. I wasn’t a first generation college student and my parents really discouraged that idea of using the public library as my educational center. 

And luckily I got a scholarship and was able to do my undergrad through a scholarship, but that experience just opened my world in ways that there’s no way I could have predicted. Just taking lots of different classes in the liberal arts and being introduced to ideas that were so different from the ideas that I had kind of been handed down. It really changed my perspective. Maybe more than change, it opened my perspective to see that the world was so much more than I could have imagined.

[00:08:08] Jasper: That’s beautifully put and hearing both of you I feel like you’re both true believers in the transformative potential of education and have experienced it firsthand.

And I’m curious how you bring that to your work with students who have not, for many reasons, for varying forces, and I want to talk about some of those forces, have not been able to access higher education in the past.

So maybe to start off, who are the sorts of people who the Bridge program has served and continues to serve?

[00:08:39] Kathryn: So, we would say that our Bridge students come from all walks of life. I started in Bridge in 2006, and in that time we’ve had students of all ages, races, genders, ethnicities, students who speak many different languages and have lots of different life experiences.

When thinking about, and this probably comes to your structural question, or the things we’ll get into later, but when thinking about who could benefit from a program like Bridge that tries to take away definitely the financial barriers, but hopefully other barriers as well. There are lots of people who have been kept out of higher education for lots of different reasons.

[00:09:18] Russell: And we want to add, too, that over the last few years, the face of Bridge has even changed a bit in terms of our reach. The starter Bridge was in Los Angeles, you know, from our Culver City campus and reached out to people throughout L.A. County to be a part of the Bridge program. Since COVID, we’ve had to be online.

We have reached across the country and students around the world. We’ve had a student from South Africa. This year, we have students from Indonesia. We have students from Jamaica. We have students in our classroom, who live in the United States and represent about six other countries and six states around the country.

So what has happened with Bridge because of the excitement and the energy that has built and the word of mouth, working with the L.A. Public Library and working with Clemente and working with other community programs, church programs, and so on. People are interested who otherwise may not have gone to school for whatever reason, those are the things we’re talking about right now, have found this free program to open their eyes, open their thinking, open up a new pathway. So people from around the country now want to be a part of the Bridge program.

[00:10:34] Jasper: That’s beautiful. I have to admit that I didn’t know that you were reaching students from beyond the LA area now, through the miracle of online education. 

[00:10:43] Russell: Yeah. 

[00:10:44] Jasper: But I’m curious, Kathryn, you mentioned obstacles that go beyond just financial obstacles, what are some of the other obstacles that keep people who want to access higher education from actually doing so?

[00:10:56] Kathryn: So a lot of students who would be considered returning students or non-traditional when it comes to that age range of 18 to 22 may have work and family obligations, and some students have multiple. Family obligations and holding together so much in their lives. And then, there are students who say, I haven’t had the time for myself. And now maybe it’s my time to do something. There are other students who struggle with technology or struggle, feeling like they’ve been out of school for so long. Maybe it’s not possible to come back. So lots of different reasons. I guess I could keep going, thinking through all the students I remember over the years and what I’ve learned from them.

[00:11:39] Russell: I would add to that, Kathryn, that students have stepped away from school because of the traditional approach to school, right? With having to earn a grade, right? So you’re grading me on an ABC scale, or 80, 90, 100 scale, right? And not everybody is a test taker. Right? Not everybody functions that way.

So those traditional ways that I have seen and I’ve heard from students are what push people away. So when you come to Antioch University and the Bridge program, that’s an extension of Antioch University, you’re in a more non-traditional format, where we are a body of a community of learners, where we are learning from each other.

And we provide written evaluations to help students to have a written document about how they’re doing, as opposed to a letter grade that may not reflect how they’re really doing.

Right. So our non-traditional approach also supports students who have felt that they did not want to be in the traditional environment that didn’t work for them. 

[00:12:48] Kathryn: Russ, that reminds me of students over the years who have said that they were pushed out of their previous school with some of the things that happened in high schools, especially shortly after No Child Left Behind.

And also students who were told they were not college material, or they had a reading level that was so low, or told by teachers that they would never amount to anything, and those messages really stick with students and, decades later, can still be damaging their idea of whether or not education is something that’s for them.

[00:13:23] Jasper: Yeah. You brought up No Child Left Behind and I really appreciate it. That is something that was a national policy proposed by the Bush Administration that demanded that all schools implement testing programs and schools where their average test score was judged to be too low would have funding removed and would have control removed. And what that meant is that it was a systemic encouragement to schools to keep these artificial test scores higher, and they could do that in some cases by expelling the students who were not getting the highest of test scores.

That to me is a useful thing to point to, because it literally is policy at the federal level. It’s not just a mean teacher saying, you’re never going to amount to anything. Not to say that those don’t have effects, but this is a systemic effect.

[00:14:16] Russell: Yeah.

[00:14:18] Jasper: Russell, you started talking about some of the ways that you support students who may have been derailed in some cases, you know, decades ago, or more recently left high school, whatever the background may be, that you have different ways that you support students as they’re entering the landscape of education and higher education. I’m curious if there are other ways that you support students beyond letting go of letter grades.

[00:14:46] Russell: Yeah, I think one of the things that’s important in academia, and I teach in our undergraduate program as well, what I carry with me from my own journey, you know, in academia and work in community, is how do we make academia relevant to what you’re doing in community? And that’s a big piece for me in my classrooms is to not just talk about the theory, right, not just to read the text, but it’s to draw the relationship for students to their work and community.

They’re already doing work. And it’s acknowledging what they’re doing. It’s not dismissing it. It’s acknowledging it. And there may be something here that will enhance what you’re doing, right? So, I have found success when I draw those links together. You know, we identify what you were doing in community, and then let’s go ahead and take a look at these texts, whatever we’re reading, and then draw the link. Between what you’re talking about in the classroom to what you’re doing in community. And that helps to make the experience more engaging for students, right? Because now you’re giving me tools and I’m gaining tools that I can use in my real life work in community.

[00:16:05] Jasper: Yeah, the concept that something might be applicable to your actual life, and you would be more interested in that. 

[00:16:12] Russell: And because we’re in environment of community, of learners, it’s not all of what I think is right, you know. It’s what are you gleaning that’s right for you? Approach in my classrooms and workshops and whatever I’m doing, is that I don’t dismiss what you’re doing. What you’re doing is important and we want to talk about that. We want to acknowledge that, right? And then as we’re reading and then we’re hearing from other students, that’s a part of that community of learners environment is, what is the individual gleaning, right? What are they capturing that they can take back with them to enhance what they’re already doing in community?

[00:16:53] Jasper: What I’m hearing from you also is that you’re not treating the student as someone who’s innocent of all knowledge and kind of a blank slate that you fill up with your own wisdom, but you’re dignifying some of the expertise that they already have as people who are engaged in their worlds.

[00:17:10] Russell: Correct. That is absolutely correct. That’s absolutely correct.

[00:17:14] Jasper: Yeah. Another way of stating this question which, trying to understand more about the Bridge Program and your approach, is to say, do you have any advice for other people who might be supporting non-traditional learners, people returning to higher education environments, both family and friends, but also maybe other teachers?

[00:17:33] Russell: Well, I think a piece of it, we just said, acknowledge that people are coming to the classroom with knowledge and information. 

That’s happened. Don’t dismiss that. And that’s one of the things that I’ve learned on my journey in Antioch University is don’t dismiss that. We’re here to enhance. We’re here to expand.

We’re here to open some doors. Those “ta da” moments. Ah, “ta da.” That, you know, it’s opening up those ideas. And always for me, it’s always linking it back to what you are doing. Frequently what I do in my classes is that I have my students in both Bridge and my undergraduate programs, but what I do in all of my classes is, prior to the start of the class, it’s just like what you said about positionality. I love that language. And that is: what are you bringing to this study? Whatever we’re doing, communications or whatever we’re doing, right? Where are you in community?

What’s your work in community? What are we doing? And we talk about that the very first day. So we acknowledge that this is your location. This is your location. Okay. So now we’re going to build on that. You know, we’re not going to go through the next 10 weeks or workshop, whatever it is, and dismiss that.

[00:18:52] Jasper: Yeah. Kathryn, I want to bring you in. Are there any approaches that you take when you’re thinking about how to set up a class or maybe on that first day of class? 

[00:19:02] Kathryn: My mind goes immediately to some nuts and bolts, little practical things that we do. And one is, we start every class asking the students what they need to learn well and to work well in the classroom environment, from their instructor, but also from each other and to begin that conversation.

And maybe it takes 10 weeks to have that conversation, but to start that and listen to each other, so that, as best we can, we set the class up in a way that works for people. Another thing that we do in Bridge is, if somebody misses class, we reach out. 

This may happen in lots of classes, but, it might be seen as a small detail, but it can really matter, if a student knows that they were missed. And not reaching out like, Oh boy, you’re in trouble, but reaching out in a way that’s like, I hope you’re okay.

And, I always remember there was a student years ago who, I was doing this and I said, Oh, how are you? We missed you in class. And he said, Been away helping a family member who’s sick but I’ll be back. And I said, Oh, great. It’s really good to hear your voice and we’ll look forward to seeing you again.

At the end of the year, he said at that moment, he was ready to give up on the class, because he thought missing the class was gonna mean that he couldn’t be part of Bridge. So sometimes those checking-ins can mean more than we realize as we’re checking in with somebody. 

[00:20:22] Jasper: Thank you for sharing that specific example, that feeling that you’re being cared for. And that you’re being held in community by your teachers and your colleagues, is not something that maybe all of us have experienced that often in our educational histories. 

[00:20:40] Russell: Yeah. 

[00:20:41] Jasper: As somebody who had relatively smooth sailing, I would have appreciated more of that when I was having hard times and maybe missed a class, as opposed to a much more kind of vindictive, if you miss another class, you’re going to receive a incomplete, or something along those lines. It sounds to me like you’re also healing some of the wounds of previous educational experiences people might’ve had.

[00:21:04] Kathryn: I would hesitate to say that for myself because I never know if I’m doing something that’s helpful for the student or not unless they tell me, but hopefully with enough good experiences, that can happen.  

[00:21:16] Jasper: I want to turn and talk about some of the outcomes, and maybe some specifics, of how you’ve seen students going through your program and programs like it able to serve their own communities better, be able to achieve the things that they want to in their own life. I don’t know which of you would start, but can you share these specifics of how you’ve seen students grow and be affected by doing this work? 

[00:21:40] Russell: You can imagine over the years of having over 700 students, that lives are changed. About five years ago or so, Kathryn, maybe four years ago, we worked on our strategic plan for Bridge, and the people who were going into the community and talking to Bridge students, alums, faculty, folks across the board. The single line that came up from 

everyone that was important is how Bridge changes lives. People have gone through many different experiences and have come out on the other side with finding their self-worth, that they are valued, and they’re valuable.

We have one student, in particular, and there’s a number like this. This is only one example. This individual came into the Bridge program. They were homeless, on drugs. They had that street environment that they were engaged in. They found their way to the Bridge program.

And, after completing the Bridge program, they were inspired to continue on. So they had enough units because, even though they had found themselves homeless and on drugs and so on, they still had college earned credit from other places, right? And Antioch University accepts that.

So they went through the Bridge Program. After the Bridge Program, they were accepted into Antioch’s undergraduate program. They graduated from the undergraduate program and from there, a same student, went on to our Master’s in Psychology program. 

So they went from Bridge to undergraduate studies, to Master’s in Psychology, graduated from the Master’s in Psychology program and back in that day and, Kathryn can help me the numbers, was probably about five or six hundred graduating students, right? And this particular student was voted by the professors to be the commencement speaker. 

So this student went from the streets, to Bridge, to undergraduate, to Master’s in Psychology, to being the Commencement speaker, and continuing doing work and supporting people in the community. 

[00:23:53] Jasper: That’s such an amazing story. 

[00:23:55] Russell: What I would invite people to do who are listening to this is go to bridge.antioch.edu and there are other people who are sharing their stories at bridge.antioch.edu.

[00:24:08] Jasper: If my memory serves me correctly, when I graduated from the MFA in 2019, that student was the speaker. For the psychology students. And I remember being there in Royce Hall at UCLA’s campus and everybody was kind of beside themselves at just like what an amazing story that was. What an amazing speech it was.

[00:24:29] Russell: Yeah, yeah.

[00:24:30] Jasper: Kathryn, did you have anything to add there?

[00:24:32] Kathryn: I was remembering that day in Royce Hall as well. But, in talking about what’s happened with some of the students who’ve been through Bridge over the years, Russell and I were talking about the number of students who share Bridge with others.

So that’s something that happens all the time. Students will say, I heard about you from someone who had been through the program before. And another thing is we also have many students who’ve gone on to be community leaders or to work in government or, we have someone who’s a journalist. So there are many ways that students kind of carry on some of the conversations we’ve had in Bridge in different parts of their lives. 

[00:25:10] Russell: I do wanna share if I can one other story and Kathryn will certainly remember this one, ’cause it changed my life in the very beginning. And I was a TA in bridge before I became part of the Faculty. And I have a certain way of how I like to show up and how I think people should show up. Right? And this one student showed up every week sagging. Coming into the classroom and that’s my own stuff, but that was troublesome for me. 

[00:25:39] Jasper: This is a style of wearing your pants rather low. 

[00:25:42] Russell: This is a style of wearing pants, and I was like, oh my God, let me say something. And I would try to position and say some things, ’cause I’m coming from a different era. We move into the final quarter of Bridge. So, I’m helping them to make sure they get all their work in so that they can be a part of the commencement.

And so I remember sitting and talking with him. This is the student that was sagging all year long. He said, Russ, I’m pushing to finish. I really want to finish this because I never graduated from high school. I was formally in the system, right? And my mother never saw me walk the stage. 

And I want to finish the Bridge program because I want my mother to see me walk the stage. Well, you could have picked me up from the floor with all the tears because where I was thinking in one way, about how things should look, you know, how people should show up. He was showing up in a very particular way and I have actually since seen it. You know, probably just a couple years ago. I was out in community and I saw him in community. And he was doing great stuff and so on, but Bridge changed his life and he had a very particular reason for doing it because he wanted to do something for his mother. Because he didn’t know whatever the future was going to be. 

[00:27:04] Jasper: Well, I love your two examples. One is somebody who’s experienced incarceration and our criminal legal system. And another is somebody who’s experienced homelessness.

And, these are both massive issues in our society that affect tons of people. And yet I think our society is set up so that people often making the decisions that most impact those communities often need to have these kinds of credentials of, Oh, do you have a college degree? Do you have a master’s degree, in order to be in a place where you can actually change things on a larger scale. 

Kathryn, you were saying that people coming out of communities, getting skills and bringing them back to their communities. It made me think of the saying Nothing about us, without us. And that’s kind of a bigger picture thing, but I’m curious how you’ve grown as activists, through the study in this environment.

[00:28:08] Kathryn: I think I’m hesitating because I’ve learned from students who are part of communities and have tools. I’ve learned from what the students already know and already are ready to do. I see Russ nodding.  

[00:28:24] Russell: Yeah. We have students who are already doing work in community, but they want to improve their writing skills. They want to improve their public speaking skills. They want to improve in their engagement in our humanities conversations, around art history and philosophy and in literature. Where they are able to have conversations with each other about these ancient and near term issues and writers and thinkers and so on and how it impacts their lives today. Right, so they want to have those kinds of conversations, so that again, it expands their thinking as they go back into the community.

Right, and so they will take something, and I say that affirmatively because I’ve heard it more times than not. They take something from our classrooms and they bring it back with them to enhance whatever it is they’re doing in the community. You know, I’m thinking about a couple of stand-up poets and artists in the community. They become more boisterous, you know, they become more active in the work that they’re doing, you know. Or, it encourages them to go back to school to complete their GED.

And sometimes it’s just as simple as that. This has helped me to see that I can go back and earn my GED. Right, or I can go back and finish that community college work. This encourages that. 

[00:29:49] Jasper: Yeah, I appreciate both of you kind of pushing back against the framing of the question of, you know, somehow coming into an institution of higher education. Spending this year would transform or would necessarily be the catalyzing experience for people who often are already on a mission.

So I’m curious how you do see that experience playing out? Is it just students coming in and getting the skills that they know that they need to take back. Or is there a larger alchemy, maybe, that happens in assembling a learning community and as a year of learning from each other?

[00:30:28] Russell: So I think our role with our TAs and our instructors, with all of us, it’s mainly understanding where are you and where do you want to go? Not where I want, it’s where you want to go. And my role is to support you on that journey.

[00:30:45] Kathryn: I think that people often view higher education as kind of like the gatekeeping mechanism for certain kinds of careers or certain, I’m going to use Russ’s word, pathways in life. And wish that weren’t the case. I think that’s the role that’s been given higher education. And our students know that if you have a college degree, you can apply for these jobs or you can get the promotion at work that you know you deserve because you’ve been doing the work for 20 years, and they want the piece of paper. 

And I think that’s an important thing when it comes to Bridge, to recognize that, as Russ was saying, to offer students that pathway. I hope when I’m in the classroom, that the alchemy, I like that word alchemy, that the alchemy happens. As well, that our conversations and the community itself can do something, above and beyond providing a pathway to the piece of paper for those who really need it.

[00:31:45] Jasper: Yeah. Drawing a distinction between the piece of paper and then like the alchemy of true learning and community is useful to me to clarify what I’m asking and how I’m understanding this. This kind of circles back to something I talked about in my introduction here, which is this bigger question of why should we be students? Why do we need to get degrees?

Is it just job preparedness, or are there bigger, better reasons to pursue higher education and to pursue education at all? So I wanted to ask about the role that you see programs like this playing in society and what you see as the future for Bridge and for reaching students who’ve been historically shut out and disenfranchised. Yeah, where are we going?

[00:32:33] Kathryn: So, Russ and I were talking about some of these ideas that there are lots of new innovations and ways of seeing higher education when it comes to access. And there are programs and universities that are waiving tuition, especially for students who have been historically marginalized. and other programs that are free.

I want to mention Clemente, since Bridge was inspired by Clemente, as of the first programs of its kind. But, I think there are ways to take away some of those barriers. And I think people are talking about them more than when I began in Bridge, years ago. I’m hearing many more conversations about this.

[00:33:12] Russell: I think there’s got to be questions, in higher ed, and all the work that we do in academia, whether it’s the free bridge program, the community college, wherever it is. Is it relevant and is it accessible? There was a period of time, odd years ago, twenty, thirty, fifty, whatever the time was where you would come to class at a certain time of the day, right?

And you’d have certain schedules and certain ways of doing that, right? And so, as we learned in some recent meetings with colleagues talking in terms of accessibility, people are probably working during the day and they want to get that education, but they’re only available at night. So are we accessible for that, is what we’re teaching relevant?

Well, depending upon what you’re going into, you will determine from there, but I think it’s questions that we have to ask ourselves about it being relevant. When we talk about programs like Clemente and Bridge and the free programs out there, we’re all wanting to attract people to the space and opportunity into this conversation is relevant for their lives. And people have asked the question, when I’m done?

[00:34:28] Jasper: Yeah.

[00:34:29] Russell: People will ask me the question, I get more times than that at the end of the year, they’ll say, So where do I go from here? In my role with students, if I’ve done my work with students throughout the year, they will answer that question for themselves. Oh, this is where I’m going from here. Right, this is what I want to do next.

Because we’ve done that work during the course of the year to get students to think about, what are those next steps for you? We don’t want you to wait till you get to nine months and we’re done and you ask the question. We want you to be thinking about that question now. What is it that you want to do?

You know, we begin to have that conversation open up the doors and sometimes it was like a month and two months. Sometimes students come in and they know what it is. Sometimes it takes students a couple quarters to think about what it’s going to be. And then we help them on a pathway to move to where they want to be. 

[00:35:24] Jasper: That’s such a gift. So, thinking about next steps that people could take, if people want to learn more about Bridge, say they want to apply to become a student, or maybe they would like to send a donation your way, how would they do that? 

[00:35:39] Russell: We just started our fall quarter. We will be accepting applications going into the winter quarter, which starts in January. We’re accepting those now so people can go to our website and apply on the website. And that’s at bridge.antioch.edu. Bridge.antioch.edu. 

Bridge is financially free to our students. Our students don’t pay for books. They don’t pay tuition. They don’t pay anything. What they pay is in the energy that they bring to the room, but financially, Bridge is free. There may be some people out there who are asking the question, which is a fair question: How do you all fund Bridge? And that’s by individual donations—large and small donations—all of them support the Bridge program. And again, we would invite you to go to bridge.antioch.edu and donate right there. And know that your donation goes directly to supporting the Bridge program. And we thank you for those donations.

[00:36:45] Jasper: That’s great. Well, thank you so much Russell and Kathryn for taking the time out of your busy schedules to come and chat with us here.

[00:36:52] Kathryn: Thank you.

[00:36:53] Russell: Thank you, Jasper. This has been great. We hope we can do it again.


[00:36:57] Jasper: The Bridge program that we’ve been talking about is based on Antioch’s Los Angeles campus, and it’s available to low-income adults around the world. If you would like to learn more about Bridge, either to apply as a student or to make a donation, please visit the Bridge website. That’s at bridge.antioch.edu, and we’ll put a link to that in our show notes. We’ll also link there to an episode that pairs really well with this one. My interview with Ingrid Ingersen, titled, The Students Healing Educational Trauma by Studying Literature, History, Art, and Philosophy. We also recently published an in-depth profile of Russell Thornhill on Common Thread, Antioch’s University News website.

Find a link to that in our show notes. We post these show notes on our website, theseedfield.org, where you can also find full episode transcripts, prior episodes, and more. The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University. Our editor is Johanna Case. I’m your host, Jasper Nighthawk. Our digital designer is Mira Mead.

Jen Mont is our web content coordinator. Carrie Hawthorne, Stefanie Paredes, and Georgia Birmingham are our work study interns. A special thanks to Karen Hamilton, Amelia Bryan, and Melinda Garland. Thank you for spending your time with us today. That’s it for this episode. We hope to see you next time. And don’t forget to plant a seed, sow a cause, and win a victory for humanity.

From Antioch University, this has been the Seed Field Podcast.