Oct 26, 2015Vol. 46, Issue 2

Opening Minds and Doors

Upward Bound celebrates 50 years of helping students reach college

Alexis Hernandez, left, and Chong Xiong explore the concepts of robotics as part of a 2015 Upward Bound summer session at Chico State focusing on the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. (Jason Halley)

Alexis Hernandez, left, and Chong Xiong explore the concepts of robotics as part of a 2015 Upward Bound summer session at Chico State focusing on the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. (Jason Halley)

At Chico State’s Upward Bound Project’s 50th anniversary gala Sept. 19, Director Maria Moreno looked around and saw tables of alumni filled with lawyers, engineers, doctors, police officers, teachers, and many more professionals. 

It was this moment that gave Moreno pause when she thought about the incredible transformation those Upward Bound alumni had made. They all entered the program as first-generation, low-income high school students from throughout the North State and, through the help of the program, had become successful professionals across the country.

"That's why that night was so amazing, because there was this visual of decades worth of: ‘Oh, this is what Upward Bound is all about,’” she said. "You could see what a program that cares can produce. This is what an education can afford you.”

The program had a lot to celebrate that night. Throughout its 50 years on campus, it’s served more than 3,000 students; it’s grown from a staff of three to a staff of more than 70; it’s expanded from one to three federal grants, including two related to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), at a time when federal grants have become more and more competitive; it’s extended its influence from Butte County to 18 high schools around the North State; and it’s continued its legacy of giving and caring about student collegiate success.

Alums of Chico State’s Upward Bound celebrate at the program’s 50th anniversary gala Sept. 19. (Courtesy)

Alums of Chico State’s Upward Bound celebrate at the program’s 50th anniversary gala Sept. 19. (Courtesy)

CSU, Chico’s Upward Bound program began in 1965 as one of the first such programs in the nation. Its purpose is to give students an introduction to the four-year college experience and get them on track for entrance and admittance. The program accomplishes this in many ways, including a six-week summer program in which students live in Shasta and Lassen halls and take college preparatory courses like robotics, anatomy, chemistry, and computer science. Throughout the school year, Upward Bound also sends 35 Chico State students as tutors to help mentor and teach them.

"Our purpose is to fill their toolbox with everything they're going to need," Moreno said.

While the Upward Bound program has expanded, securing federal grants has become increasingly competitive. Moreno believes that the University has been not only able to keep but expand its funding because of its commitment to its students and an ability to continually improve the program to meet the needs of North State students.

"We do everything we can for these students," Moreno said. "It's a huge responsibility to shape them and help them get into college and improve their future. We take that responsibility very seriously.”

One of the students who has benefited from the program is Victoria Bass, admissions coordinator for the campus’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), who joined the program as a high school freshman in 1987 and attended through her senior year.

Bass said her time in the summer program instilled in her many values she still utilizes as part of her duties with EOP, including a focus on academics, an understanding of different backgrounds and challenges, and a commitment to creating clear paths to a college education. She eventually attended Sonoma State, where she earned a degree in social sciences.

"It's everything a summer program should be," she said. "It encourages people to go to college, it gives them that extra academic preparedness and exposure that they might not have. Getting students thinking about college on a daily basis, that's what works."

Upward Bound alum Baljit Boparai looks through a photo album documenting the program’s participants and activities through the years. (Courtesy)

Upward Bound alum Baljit Boparai looks through a photo album documenting the program’s participants and activities through the years. (Courtesy)

One of the program’s main goals is developing mentors and meaningful relationships. The staff has the unique experience of being present during some students’ most formative years. Plus, if they choose to attend Chico State, they gain four more years of guidance and mentorship. 

"We kind of see how their story ends," Moreno said. "All of our staff have this deep connection with our studentswell, our kids, we call them our kids. We really establish a sense of family in the summer program that continues for many years. When you have a relationship with someone for eight years, it's incredible to see them go on and do amazing things."

Public Affairs and Publications intern Ernesto Rivera may be reached at paintern2@csuchico.edu.  

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