Upward Bound prepares southwest Detroit students for college and careers

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Upward Bound students visiting the DIAThe College of Education’s Upward Bound program is designed to help low-income, first-generation high school students prepare for college. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, it helps participants strengthen their academic skills, increase their awareness about college and careers, and navigate the college application and financial aid processes.

The program specifically targets students in southwest Detroit who attend César Chávez Academy High School and Western International High School. Students participate in several activities throughout the school year and have access to services and support, including afterschool tutoring and test preparation, field trips, and bilingual programming for students and their families.

Sandra Gonzales, associate professor of bilingual/bicultural education and principal investigator for the grant, said unlike other afterschool or enrichment activities, Upward Bound is designed to nurture a small group of students for a long period of time. When students join, they make a long-term commitment; most begin as ninth graders and remain in the program until they graduate from college.

Associate Professor Sandra Gonzales
Associate Professor Sandra Gonzales

“We get to know students and their families very well,” she said. “Our staff has the ability to communicate in English, Spanish and Arabic, so we can be culturally and linguistically responsive to parents and students about the college process. However, we are not just a college access program. We are like an extended family network. We travel with students on in-state and out-of-state college campus tours; connect them with career professionals for internships and work-study opportunities; plan service activities; celebrate their accomplishments; and engage with families at home, at school, on campus or wherever needed. We are here to give our students and families the academic and socioemotional boost they need to persist and succeed.”

This past summer, students enjoyed a five-week academic program. Students took classes on Wayne State’s campus to prepare for the next school year and visited in-state and out-of-state colleges and universities to expand students’ awareness and options related to higher education opportunities.

“Many students have never been on a college campus,” said Ana Calandrino, director of the program. “By participating in this initiative, they not only experience what it is like to take classes, but they also gain a better understanding of the different options available to them. We want them to understand that they have choices and encourage them to pick a college that is the best fit, whether it be in a large urban setting or a small rural town.”

Upward Bound is using the university’s Warrior Funder platform to raise money to provide transportation for summer program students. The goal is to raise $5,000 during the campaign, which runs through April 1, 2019.

“Because many students cannot drive and their parents work, it is difficult for them to get to campus,” said Calandrino. “Funds will be used to ensure students have reliable roundtrip transportation from home to campus. They will also support our efforts to take students on field trips and campus tours and to cultural enrichment and other activities.”

Several students served as interns to Wayne State faculty and staff members to obtain work experience and explore potential careers. Participants worked in the College of Education, College of Engineering and School of Social Work on projects ranging from marketing and communications and information technology to academic services and accreditation. Through a partnership with the Michigan Hispanic Collaborative, high school juniors and seniors in the program recently completed a one-week internship at DTE Energy.

“It is important for students to be exposed to internships because they provide an opportunity for them to learn outside of a classroom setting. At times, a classroom setting is based on theories and scenarios, whereas an internship can allow students to gain experience applying skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, communication and collaboration,” said Calandrino. “Students can also add internships to their resume and college applications. These experiences may also help students choose a career path, decide what courses they might like to take when they begin college and encourage them to apply for similar opportunities in the future.”

Students are also exposed to academic programs and careers focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In an effort to reduce the technology gap. ninth and tenth grade students recently attended a workshop on Wayne State's campus. Participants built their own computers, loaded their own software, learned how to use the software, and were able to take their computers home with them. Next month, participants will present their STEM research projects in the form of poster and PowerPoint presentations at the Wayne State Junior Science and Humanities Symposium as a result of funding from the Army Education Outreach Program.

Through COE Upward Bound, students create connections with their advisors and other staff members, who often serve as mentors and provide academic and career guidance.

“This program helps break down barriers to higher education,” said Gonzales. “We are committed to the growth and development of these students and are excited by the opportunity to encourage them to reach their goals and empower them to succeed.”

For more information about the College of Education’s Upward Bound program, visit coe.wayne.edu/coe_upward_bound/index.php. To support the fundraising campaign, go to warriorfunder.wayne.edu/project/12289.  

This project received 97% of its funding from the United States Department of Education (grant #P047A171342-18) totaling $1,370,678. Remaining financial support from this project totaling $49,316 was received from Battelle Memorial Institute.


by Elizabeth Amezcua, Yaneli Perez, and Tracy A. Walker

Note: Elizabeth Amezcua and Yaneli Perez are high school students and participants in the College of Education's Upward Bound program.