Program helps make college dreams a reality
When she began attending Tri-County High School in Plainfield, Reyna Gonzalez wasn’t thinking about college. Like many students whose parents had not attended college, she had little information on how to get into college, where to go and what she might want to study.
That all changed after she joined Upward Bound, a free pre-college program that serves students at several area high schools from its base at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP).
Now in her fourth year of the program, Gonzalez is making plans to attend UWSP to study business and marketing. She has become familiar with campus after spending three summers there as part of the six-week Upward Bound session. During the school year, she spends weekends traveling with Upward Bound to visit different colleges and learning how to succeed in higher education.
“I wasn’t sure about college before,” she said, “but now I’m 100-percent sure I’m going. Someday, I hope to have my own business.”
Part of the Federal TRIO Programs funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Upward Bound serves ninth- through 12th-grade students year-round. The program includes online tutoring, monthly school visits, fall and spring workshops and the six-week summer session. The services are provided to under-represented students for academic, cultural and personal support in graduating from high school, enrolling in college and having lifelong success.
This past summer, Gonzalez studied writing, psychology, pre-calculus, current events, political science and college readiness. She has enjoyed having an edge in all her classes when they begin again in the fall, she said.
“I fell in love with learning about different cultures and trying new things,” she said. “It’s been a good experience for me.”
The U.S. Department of Education renewed Upward Bound’s $2.1 million grant in June to fund the program for the next five years.
“We reach out to first-generation students whose circumstances have kept them from thinking about higher education,” said Judy Young, Upward Bound’s interim director. In addition to helping build their study habits and finding financial solutions, Upward Bound offers emotional support. “We help them realize their potential and give them the skills and motivation to get their degree.”
Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln High School student Quan Higdon was excited to join Upward Bound because of its academic focus. Already interested in higher education, the experience has shown him the realities of college academics and the prestige of earning a degree.
“Upward Bound exceeded my expectations,” he said. “I’ve earned high school credits and study skills. I’ve learned my weaknesses and strengths, and I’ve learned how to deal with them.” He is interested in majoring in chemistry or physics and music performance.
Wausau East High School graduate Morgan Lanahan joined Upward Bound as a high school freshman. She didn’t know much about college, as her parents and siblings had not attended. She learned about taking the ACT and applying for federal aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
“I went on every college visit trip Upward Bound offered over four years,” said Lanahan. “I must have seen around 30 campuses. For me, college had just been an idea, but each trip made it more and more realistic.”
Once she graduated from high school, Lanahan was ready to major in sociology at St. Norbert College, De Pere. She also wanted to give back to a program that helped her reach her goals, so she became an Upward Bound summer session resident assistant at UWSP. This past summer she served as the hall director for the entire camp.
“This feels like family to me,” she said. “When they talk to me, they see someone who has been in their shoes, and someone who can help them make decisions.”
The summer session becomes especially helpful, said Lanahan, because students live, study and explore together over the six-week period. In addition to attending classes, they enjoy trips to baseball games, museums and trampoline parks.
“It’s a tightly knit group,” she said. “They connect well with each other and the staff and have the chance to be themselves, grow and become mature.”
UWSP’s Upward Bound program is accepting applications from students enrolled in the following schools: Stevens Point Area Senior High School, Ben Franklin Junior High School, P. J. Jacobs Junior High School, Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln High School, Auburndale High School, Tomahawk High School, Minocqua Lakeland Union High School and Eagle River Northland Pines High School.
Upcoming events include workshops on filling out FAFSA in Rhinelander Monday, Oct. 23, and the fall workshop, held at Treehaven Field Station in Tomahawk Nov. 10-11. For more information on Upward Bound programming, go to www.uwsp.edu/upbound/Pages/Home.