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Article written by Bruce Wood.

After a summer of training, a fall spent cramming Division I volleyball and Ivy League academics into a 10-week term, and the usual rush to finish papers and study for exams, the last thing Emily Patrick probably needed when friends back home in Texas were soaking up the sun was to dive into perhaps the most exhausting three weeks of her college career.

In frozen New Hampshire.

Voluntarily.

Wiley Osborne could have used the break between a grueling investment banking internship in the fall and the lacrosse preseason to chill back in California and charge his batteries but instead he chose to spend much of December working every bit as hard as he did in his internship, which is saying something.

Why would Patrick and Osborne, softball player Maddie Damore, football’s John Katzman and other athletes decide to venture far out of their comfort zone and enroll in Dartmouth’s demanding and admittedly arduous Tuck Business Bridge Program?

“I want to go into the business world after graduation and as a sociology-anthropology double major I haven’t really had a taste of accounting or econ and all that fun stuff,” explained Damore.

Osborne, another who did the relatively new winter Bridge program – it has been offered by Tuck in the summer since 1997 – saw it as an opportunity to expand on a foundation he began to build that fall.

“I decided to do it because as a government major I hadn’t gotten that much business exposure at Dartmouth,” the lacrosse captain explained. “I had done an investment banking internship in the fall when I was away from campus and wanted to supplement my liberal arts degree because I am interested in going into finance when I graduate.”

The four Big Green athletes are among more than 4,000 undergraduates who along with a smaller number of  graduates from Dartmouth and upwards of 75 other colleges and universities, have studied in the immersive Bridge program offered in two four-week summer sessions or one three-week winter session. Admission is competitive with SAT or ACT scores, transcripts, a healthy GPA and recommendations all required.

Just how exhausting is it?

Bridge students begin their jam-packed day with breakfast in Tuck’s Byrne Dining Hall. With the exception of a noon lunch break that might include a career exploration panel and an hour break in late afternoon, they are scheduled through until a 6:30 dinner call with classmates and faculty. Even that might feature a panel or speaker.

After the half-hour dinner recess it’s time to break into groups to dig into homework assignments, collaborate with team members on a group project and meet with the Tuck MBA student serving as their team coach.

Typically, casework preparation for the next day begins around 9 p.m., and will stretch late into the night, after which it all starts over.

Held six days a week, classes include subjects such as managerial economics, corporate finance, marketing simulation, spreadsheet modeling and financial accounting.

At the end of four weeks in summer and the accelerated three-week winter session, the student groups present valuations of companies to panels of professors and business professionals. The companies the Bridge students study are involved in a wide variety of endeavors ranging from developing concussion sensors in sports helmets to building a national market for tacos and burritos to selling eyeglasses over the Internet.

Katzman, a senior punter/kicker on the football team, decided on the program because he felt it could open doors in the business world.

“I thought that doing the Bridge program and having that on my resume coming from a liberal arts school and being a Chinese major, of all things, would tell employers that I was serious about trying to learn finance. Bridge really confirmed my interest in the subject. Three weeks of courses isn’t enough to become an accounting guru but it shows demonstrated interest.”

Patrick, an outside hitter on the volleyball team, is majoring in economics and Spanish. For her, Bridge was both an introduction to business and a confirmation of the appeal of a career in finance.

“I decided to do it partially because of recruiting, to help me understand what I needed to know for interviews, and to find out whether it was something I was even interested in,” she said. “It was a productive use of my time and helped me to be sure I wanted to go the finance route.”

While Patrick, Katzman, Damore and Osborne come from different sports and different majors, they all value the experience. And they all agree that the work they did in the Bridge program was every bit as taxing as anything they have done since arriving at Dartmouth.

“Aside from completing research papers the night before they were due, which is completely my fault, I don’t think I ever worked that hard,” said Katzman. “The amount of concentrated work that you have to do is a lot. You very rarely have time to actually finish your assignments because you’re taking classes all day. You might get an hour to go to the gym at night, but I remember we were working far later than the normal business school students.”

Said Damore: “The pace is very fast. It helps having groups to do homework with, and all the other work with. You are staying up late working, but what’s cool about that is, it’s how the real world is. If you don’t get it done, you’ve got it done by the next day to turn it in, or present whatever it is. It was fast-paced but manageable. You know what you are getting into when you sign up for.”

As least you do if Osborne steers you toward the program. He’s recommended winter Bridge to a number of fellow lacrosse players on both the men’s and women’s teams and he’s been brutally honest.

“I told them it is going to be cold, it’s going to be lonely and it’s going to be a lot of work,” he said. “But when you come out the other side you’ll be happy that you did it, and a lot more knowledgeable because of it.”

Because Bridge, like their sports, relies to a great extent on teamwork, there are lessons that work both ways.

“I think the vast majority of the teamwork skills that I used in Bridge were ones that I developed through playing volleyball here,” said Patrick. “Timeliness, working with a group of people toward one goal and being fully committed to doing your part, whether that’s being the leader of the group or being a really awesome follower. Those are both extremely valuable skills we learn in sports and I think for a lot of students they were learning it for the first time.”

Damore, likewise, came to appreciate a real-life benefit of playing on a team.

“I actually had a conversation with my coach during Tuck Bridge and again afterward about how many parallels I was drawing with what we were doing in groups, and what we do in softball,” she said. “In Bridge you work in your groups and do projects and activities that are geared to highlight certain aspects of organizational development. It was refreshing to see that how we handle our sport and working as a team translates into the work world.”

If the team experience is helpful in the Bridge world, Bridge experience can be helpful in the sports world according to Osborne.

“I think I definitely came back with more skills in group work, and being able to understand other people’s point of views in a better way,” he said. “One thing that might be overlooked about Bridge is how much more organized I became because of it. There was just so much material and so many things that were going on all the time it forced me to be extremely organized.

“That’s been a huge help on the lacrosse team trying to keep straight all the different duties and all the different things that we deal with on a daily basis.”

For Patrick, one of the greatest assets of the program was Bridge’s version of coaches.

“Something that really impressed me about the Bridge program, and to me I think might have been the most valuable part of the program, was the professors that teach it,” she said. “The professors were so engaging, intelligent and thought-provoking with their insights into the classes we took. It made the courses really interesting and easy to follow.

“That type of professor inspires learning and makes you want to do well in that class. It made the work very worthwhile.’

The bottom line? Damore’s valuation would be that it’s a “buy” for Bridge.

“It’s good for your resume, for applying for jobs, and for people to see you as better qualified,” she said. “It helps you feel more confident and better about where you stand when you are applying for jobs in the real world.

“I would and I have recommended it. The preface is, it is a little tiring, and by little I mean quite tiring. But the experience and knowledge and all of the other things you get out of Bridge are well worth it.”