OSU-OKC’s Upward Bound Program Launches Students Toward Brighter Future
(August 10, 2017, Oklahoma City, OK) – Recent Western Heights High School graduate Miguel Chavez refers to the Upward Bound college prep program at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City (OSU-OKC) as his “launching pad” to a brighter future. He entered the program as a high school freshman without much of a plan, and is now a first-generation college student heading to the University of Oklahoma this fall and then to Cornell University to study economics and sociology.
“At my high school, 87 percent of the students are on free and reduced lunches,” Miguel said. “I always thought it would be cool to go to college and knew I was capable, but I didn’t have a clue about how to make it happen. Upward Bound opened up a new world for me by giving me direction on how this could work, and guidance on how to look for scholarships and experiences. I saw that with hard work, I could choose the future I wanted.”
Miguel’s perseverance paid off. He received 13 scholarships totaling $267,000 when he graduated from high school.
In addition to the academic support, the program also covers costs such as taking the ACT and science calculators. But, according to Miguel, providing things that don’t have a price tag, like learning the value of networking, building good friendships and mentoring, are what matter most.
Upward Bound has been on the OSU-OKC campus since 1995 and serves 78 students annually from Western Heights, Northwest Classen and Putnam City West high schools by offering academic enrichment, counseling and leadership opportunities. There is no cost for students to attend Upward Bound and guidelines are set by the U.S. Department of Education including income, education level of parents and academic need. Federal grant funding of $1.7 million for the program was recently renewed through 2020.
“Prime candidates are students who have the desire and potential for college but, due to certain challenges in their lives, require an additional support system to achieve their education goals,” said Francie Moss, OSU-OKC Upward Bound director. “These kids are academic achievers. Ninety-eight percent of our Upward Bound students go to college and are the first in their families to do so. That is life-changing.”
Jenny Ha, a junior at Western Heights High School, is another Upward Bound success story. Jenny did not participate in the program this summer because she is in South Korea on a scholarship from the National Security Language Initiative for Youth. Jenny was one of only 600 competitively selected students from across the United States to participate in the initiative. Last year as a junior in high school, she served on First Lady Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room Advisory Board, a public awareness campaign designed to help students ages 14-19 celebrate education and navigate the college-going process. A Vietnamese first-generation American, Jenny says this honor meant more to her than most could ever imagine.
“I am so grateful for the Upward Bound program,” Jenny said. “The faculty and the students have been beyond encouraging and that is something rare to find. To have been surrounded by such positivity is incredible. I have left the program with an unbreakable determination to succeed.”
Moss says Miguel and Jenny are typical of the caliber of students in Upward Bound. “After graduation, many of our Upward Bound alumni come back as counselors and volunteers because they want to see others succeed. We have created this positive cycle of reinforcement and support.” Miguel’s Upward Bound mentor was Shelby Branch, a Gates Millennium Scholar. “[Shelby] showed me that you can overcome a difficult background and, through hard work, accomplish your goals,” Miguel said.
Upward Bound students attend a six-week summer session on the OSU-OKC campus that includes structured activities and field trips. To ensure progress, Upward Bound remains in contact with students during the school year through monthly meetings, college campus tours, academic testing and evaluation, tutoring, career exploration and preparation for college entrance exams and financial aid counseling. Volunteering in the community is also a big part of the program experience.
“Of course academic intelligence is important to college success, but social intelligence is also critical,” Moss said. “The more we can help students learn how to pick up on social cues and learn communication skills, the more likely they are to succeed.”
Miguel agrees. He says through the process of applying for and accepting scholarships, he knew the “lingo” of college because of his involvement with Upward Bound. “I am grateful for all the opportunities Upward Bound has given me on the OSU-OKC campus. Now when I step into a college environment, I am already accustomed to the terms associated with financial aid, enrollment and college admission procedures. The playing field has been equaled for me. I am comfortable interacting with students who come from backgrounds where college for them was a given.”
Miguel is planning on coming back to mentor Upward Bound students at OSU-OKC. “I see kids in my same situation, not having a clue of the possibilities out there. I would love to help other students learn what’s available for their lives, to encourage them to dream and look beyond what’s going on around you. Don’t settle for what’s considered ‘normal.’ Our circumstances don’t define us. When people used to ask me what college I wanted to go to, I always said Cornell. Now that is really happening.”