Since 1966, when Southern Arkansas University served as a pilot program for the new Upward Bound experiment, the program has been opening up possibilities for its students. Part of the Department of Higher Education’s TRIO initiative that emerged from President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” Upward Bound was established in an effort to remove barriers to access and success in post-secondary education.
Ann Thomas worked with then-Dean of Academic Affairs Dean C. Andrew to submit the original grant proposal, which was awarded to provide the funds to start Upward Bound in the summer of 1966.
Meant to serve as a connector for bright high school students to higher education, Upward Bound opened the door for many who didn’t have the financial means to consider college as an option after high school.
The extensive, multi-year program provided academic, counseling and tutoring services along with cultural enrichment opportunities. Since then, Upward Bound has continued its mission, adapting to changing needs of its students and higher education.
For 46 years, SAU’s Upward Bound program has provided participants with college experience through a full-time residential summer program on campus. Upward Bound pays room and board, books, associated fees and allows high school students – in ninth through 12th grades – access to higher education for five weeks out of the summer. In those five weeks, participants live in the residence halls and take classes that prepare them for the coming school year and for college entry while completing core college curriculum from science and math to creative writing, English and the arts. All year round, they have access to counselors, mentors and tutors who help them continue to help them to prepare for college. Upward Bound never quits.
Mary Iverson, Development/Technology Coordinator for Upward Bound, has worked in the program for 26 years. Her main motivation and part of the mission of the program is to help participants to become well-rounded individuals.
“Aside from the educational aspect of the program, Upward Bound helps students socially and culturally,” said Iverson. “Some of them have never even ridden in an elevator or an escalator, or spent a night in a hotel. Many have never been outside of the county in which they live. Upward Bound exposes them to a world formerly out of reach.”
Iverson spoke of introverted students who didn’t interact or say a word upon arrival on campus. She said she is always fascinated to watch as they grow and flourish through their experiences.
“By the time they graduate, they are totally different. They exude confidence and sometimes, those same quiet students – we can’t get them to shut up,” she said, with a chuckle.
Iverson said the program has proven to be a valuable to the individuals and their families. At the same time Upward Bound is focused on education, its mission is also to teach participants to give back to the community. Upward Bound students voluntarily adopt a highway, participate in canned food drives, help in the community garden on campus and work with local charities. These principles carry on, even as they graduate. Upward Bound remains a support as the participants reach goals and even beyond graduation.
Cody Jefferson, of Prescott, started in his ninth grade year. This summer, he was a part of Bridge. Aptly named, Bridge serves as … well… a bridge from high school to college. Graduates spend their final Upward Bound summer, living in the residence halls and taking college level classes with other enrolled University students. It helps them adjust and adapt the next phase of their life, according to Jefferson.
“Upward Bound teaches you responsibility,” he said. “I learned study skills and how to take tests. You wouldn’t think it, but there is definitely a right way to study and prepare. I don’t know how I would have done it without them.”
Jefferson, along with the approximately 30 other Bridge students this summer, will enter their first year of college in the fall with important core curriculum completed and a taste of possibilities.
“[Bridge] provides more freedom and more responsibility,” said Jefferson. “I can’t imagine the opportunities I would have missed if it weren’t for Upward Bound.”
Jefferson was the 2012 Upward Bound Salutatorian and recipient of the 2012 Directors Award, which is given to the all-around best student, according to Iverson. Like a majority of Upward Bound students, Jefferson will go on to pursue a bachelor of arts. A natural talent on stage with a sparkling personality, Jefferson aspires for a degree in the performing arts.
“It meant a lot for me to go through this,” he said. “If it weren’t for Upward Bound, there are so many opportunities I would have missed. And they are there with you every step of the way. I’m excited about this next step. Because I have an idea of what to expect, I’m not afraid.”
Even though advisors are only required to track them into their first weeks of college, the Upward Bound family still follows many of the participants’ progress for years. According to Iverson, most students talk about the feeling of home they have while on campus. That feeling makes a huge impact on their overall experience.
“They are impressed by the way they are treated here. The staff and faculty at SAU really seem to care,” she said. “I think that is why so many choose to come to SAU when it’s time. While they are here, students really know they are cared about and it’s that feeling of home that will draw many of them back.”
“We have a tremendous amount of support from the University or we couldn’t do it. It’s that simple. Without the support, classrooms and facilities, we couldn’t help the number we do,” she said. Upward Bound has also proven to be an excellent recruiting tool for the University.
An above-average student at Taylor High School, Tim’m West was more fixated on basketball and music than academics – until he discovered Upward Bound.
“It was a sure light in the dark that enabled me, and surely others, to see the prospect of a life beyond southwest Arkansas. We were encouraged to dream big,” said West. “Upward Bound helped me understand that it’s sometimes not good enough to be just good enough. Instead of using hardships as excuses, Upward Bound’s staff and colleagues helped me transform struggles into stepping stones. When I left Columbia County for Duke University in 1990, I knew that I represented more than myself and my family, but an entire community of people who expected no less than excellence. I continue to use that drive as an artist, lecturer and professionally as associate director of youth programs at Chicago’s Center on Halsted.”
West is a poet, emcee, scholar and author of three books: “Red Dirt Revival,” “BARE” and “Flirting.”
He graduated from Duke, The New School and Stanford University and was featured in Mario Van Peebles’ documentary, “Bring Your ‘A’ Game.” He lectures nationally, including as a visiting lecturer in ethnic studies at Humboldt State University in northern California. He also spoke at the 2011 Upward Bound commencement.
Stacy Sanders, an SAU alum and art teacher in Webster Parish Louisiana, grew up missing out on an opportunity to be involved in Upward Bound.
“My high school counselor wanted me to go to upward bound, but my parents wouldn’t let me. Big mistake, I think,” she said. “I was a first generation college student and didn’t know what to do when I got to college. I ended up dropping out the first semester. It took eight years for me to go back and actually be able to understand what to do to succeed.”
For 10 years, Sanders has spent five weeks or more of her summer teaching art to Upward Bound students. She deems it as one of the most fulfilling opportunities she has had.
“I love the students who are involved in upward bound. They are some of the most dedicated and focused young people that you will find anywhere,” she said. “The faces and names change over the years, but the determination that they have to succeed is the same. They adapt very quickly.”
Sanders said that part of the joy of her job is seeing the growth and progression of her art students.
“They have so much more confidence when they are exiting the program. They no longer wonder IF they can go to college, it’s simply a matter of which school they will attend or what their major will be,” she said. “Most of them have concrete goals and through Upward Bound come to know exactly how to meet them. Going to college is their natural next step and I think this is why we have a very high success rate.”
Sanders said that Upward Bound involvement makes education an obtainable reality for students who raised in poverty. Upward Bound helps to break that cycle by understand how to set and achieve goals.
“All kids dream of being something when they grow up: a fireman, an astronaut, a doctor, a teacher,” she said. “Upward Bound knows how to make those dreams a reality. I love watching them achieve their dreams. Our director, Jerry Thomas, was once an Upward Bound student. He is a great motivation and example to our students.”
Thomas and West aren’t the only accomplished alumni.Success stories are sprinkled throughout Upward Bound’s history. Though every participant does not go on to achieve great fame or copious wealth, they leave the program better connected and equipped to achieve a level of personal success. That is the kind of success that has become a tradition for Upward Bound. Participants in the original pilot program tell of similar experiences and share the same stories of its impact on their life’s path.
Huey G. Copeland, of Emerson, whose father had a strong work ethic usually worked during the summers. An unexpected opportunity landed him in the first Upward Bound class of 1966.
“Aside from the growth I experienced, the most lasting thing Upward Bound did for me was the close-knit relationships that came from being a part of it,” said Copeland. “In that period of time, I became more self-assured and aware of my capabilities. It gave us the opportunity to experience the college environment, which had significant impact on us.”
Copeland went on to attend college in Michigan, majoring in business administration.
Clifton Gantt, a fellow member of the pilot group, said Upward Bound gave him the first opportunity in his family to experience college life.
“I had nothing to go from, but we were going to do our best,” he said. “I knew education was the key to me moving up.” Gantt started his own transportation company.
Joe McIntyre said he remembers the tremendous amount of support he found from Upward Bound directors, advisors, teachers and fellow participants. “We encouraged each other. We were competitive and we challenged each other,” he said. “We each wanted to be among the best – it didn’t matter if it were at playing marbles – it spurred us forward and we were better for it.”
The experience also proved that he was more than capable of college and succeeding in its courses. “That was an eye opener for all of us. College was something someone else did – something you just heard about,” he said. “It was out of reach for most of because of finances. It opened doors that weren’t there before.”
“I never wanted to be anything else. I even played with my dolls, setting them up in my imaginary classroom as a little girl,” she said, laughing at the memory. “I always wanted to be a teacher, but I had no idea how to get there without the money. I had no one to look to to even show me how.”
Each one tells of how Upward Bound advisors filled the gaps between their knowledge and the enrollment process. Participants were – and still are – walked through every step from filling out complicated paperwork to degree planning and enrollment.
“What we didn’t know, Upward Bound did for us,” Johnson said. “They connected us to grants and loan opportunities. I grew up in an impoverished area and it may not sound like much, but $300 was a lot of money – that’s what it cost me then. Upward Bound helped me to achieve what I didn’t know was possible.”
Johnson later went back to obtain a master’s degree in counseling. She retired from Lafayette County High School in Stamps after a long career in a profession she has loved, making a difference in the lives of thousands of students.
“There are bright students out there who didn’t have the means or family who have done it before. Some of these bright students might never know of the possibilities that are out there – because no one is there to show them. That is where Upward Bound comes in. Sometimes, all they need to know is – they can,” said Iverson.