Upward Bound: Tech Programs Opening World Of College

SOCORRO, N.M. July 2, 2010 – More than 50 Albuquerque high school students are getting a taste of university life this summer at New Mexico Tech.

Travis Hessman, coordinator for the Upward Bound Math & Science program said the programs aim to start a new cycle within families of having youngsters earn a college degree.

Vanessa Barela, Engineering Instructor with the Upward Bound Math & Science program, oversees a project to build a miniature bridge out of tongue depressors and straws. From left are Barela, Benjiann Bennett (Albuquerque High), Robert Hand (Manzano High), Emanuel Ramirez (Highland High) and Jessica Contreras (Manzano). Photo by Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech


“The overarching mission is to break the cycle and get kids to college,” Hessman said. “A lot of these students come from an established tradition of just hoping to finish high school and get a job. We’re introducing them to a new way of thinking about success. They start to accept the idea that they can do what they want and become what they want.”

The Upward Bound program brought 23 students to Socorro, while the Upward Bound Math & Science program brought 33 more students to campus. The two programs operate independently, but with the same basic goal – bringing more students into New Mexico colleges and universities.

The two enrichment programs aim to foster post-secondary success among low-income, first-generation college students.

“Upward Bound gave me the push to continue on with going to college,” said Eduardo Paez, who graduated from West Mesa High School this year. “I have any questions or doubts, they were all answered. I feel really prepared for college.”

“Any time you have a high school student spending time on campus, the visit really helps demystify what college is all about,” Upward Bound program director Frances Ortega said. “They learn what it takes to get into college, registering, getting admitted – it helps break down some of those barriers.”

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Upward Bound programs around the nation aim to open the doors of academia to youngsters who might not have otherwise considered a college education.

For six weeks, the students live in dorms, attend classes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and get involved in campus extracurricular activities. The classes include math, English, computer and art. Group activities are planned for each afternoon and evening.

“When you get a student on campus, the longer you keep them there, the more likely they are to persist,” Ortega said. “We get them involved in activities like rugby, the gym and swing dance. Once you get them plugged in, the likelihood of success increases because they’re involved in the community of the university.”

Florencia Monge is at Tech for her third summer. She graduated from West Mesa High School this year, and is enrolled at the University of New Mexico this fall.

“Upward Bound makes sure that the change from high school to college isn’t a problem,” she said. “During the school year, we get tutoring, have workshops and attend presentations from college admissions and financial aid people.”

Both programs give students the tools to succeed in college and in life. Monge said many first-generation college students have trouble adjusting to campus life. Upward Bound eases that transition.

“Even for the [high school] freshman, they are getting away from the dependency on home,” Monge said. “They learn responsibility.”
Martha Gallegos, another West Mesa grad, said her one year in Upward Bound helped her navigate the admission process, especially the entrance essay and financial aid.

“Upward Bound has been a major help,” she said. “I’ve always had the goal of going to college, but without Upward Bound, the process would have been much harder. I’m a first generation college student. My parents don’t know about it and I would have been finding everything out on my own, but Upward Bound answered all those questions.”

Paez said the six-week campus experience is important for students who don’t have a history of college in their family.

“For someone in Upward Bound, it’s a great step to go live on campus,” he said. “Having the college experience, they learn that maybe it’s not so bad. We learn that there are people to help, as long as you community. It’s not like home, but it’s sort of like home.”

Jordy Machado will be a sophomore in the fall at West Mesa High. He said his first year in Upward Bound Math & Science helped him discover an interest in engineering.

“I’m getting more familiar with the subject and it’s preparing me for next year,” Machado said. “This is giving me an idea of what college will be like and how to prepare for it.”

Edwin Rodriguez, a rising junior at Manzano High, said the College Awareness class has helped him learn the basics about tuition, scholarships and financial aid.

Tisha Otis, also a rising junior at Manzano, said she joined the Upward Bound Math & Science because she wanted to improve her math skills.

“I’m not that good at math, so I figured that I should learn what it’ll be like at the next level,” Otis said. “We’re learning Algebra 2 and it’s helping a lot. We have a lot of things available to us in the program.”

Upward Bound is in its third year at New Mexico Tech and has about 60 students enrolled. Upward Bound Math & Science is in its first year and has 45 students enrolled in six high schools. The UBMS students are from eighth grade to rising seniors and have expressed an interest in pursuing a career in math or science.

“We give them a view of what it’s like to be in college and get them excited for a future as a college student,” UBMS director Berta Gutierrez said. “Most of their parents had never been to college at all, so they don’t have that guidance at home.”

Hessman worked in an Upward Bound Math and Science program at Kent State in Ohio for four years before coming to New Mexico. He said he has witnessed students serve as inspiration for their parents, who then decide to go to college as well.

Most of this year’s Upward Bound graduates are staying in Albuquerque and attending either the University of New Mexico or Central New Mexico Community College. However, both programs anticipate seeing some of their graduates enroll at Tech in future years.
Paez said he hopes to transfer to New Mexico Tech after a year or two at UNM.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech