Low-income high school students whose parents do not have undergraduate degrees will now have four continuous years of academic and social support to help prepare them for college life.
The University of Arizona's College of Education has received $257,500 for an initial year of funding from the U.S. Department of Education to launch Upward Bound, an evidence-based program providing the social and academic capital-building support necessary to help students successfully transition into college. The team expects to be funded for five years and will support students in the Tucson Unified School District.
All told, the team will be awarded $257,500 each year, for a total of $1.28 million.
This is the first time the University has been able to offer Upward Bound, which is aligned with the UA's existing Student Support Services (SSS)/TRiO programming. With the program launch, the UA is now able to offer eight years of continuous, specialized support through TRIO to low-income and first-generation students.
Led by Jenny Lee, principal investigator on the grant, a UA team will introduce Upward Bound modeled after the University's Native SOAR (Student Outreach Access and Resiliency) program, which trains UA students to serve as mentors to American Indian high school students.
"Given the existing higher-education access challenges for Tucson's Native and Latino students, the grant will provide intensive mentoring and academic support to make higher education a reality for these underserved populations," said Lee, a professor of educational policy studies and practice. "We are thrilled that the College of Education can expand its outreach through mentoring underserved students in the local community."
The grant-funded project was announced jointly on May 31 with Pima Community College, which also received U.S. Department of Education funding.
Federally funded programs, like Upward Bound, were established out of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 to ensure equity and access, noted U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a first-generation college student who graduated from the UA with a sociology degree in 1987.
"One of the greatest things about education is that it is the great equalizer in the world," Grijalva said during the event.
"The dividends from this investment can never calculated. We need to continue to invest in people. We need to place opportunities in front of them," Grijalva said, saying "the program has repaid us tenfold in the quality, productivity and the dividends of the students who have gone through this program and contributed to this nation."
Personal Connection Helps Win Grant
Through Upward Bound, the project team will hire UA undergraduates who will serve as tutors and mentors to the high school students online and in person.
During the academic year, the high school students will learn about college costs, federal aid, course requirements for transfer, scholarship applications, career options and study skills. They also will be immersed in academic training in different mathematics disciplines through involvement of the UA's STEM Learning Center.
The UA received the Upward Bound grant partially through the persistent effort of Sara Chavarria, assistant dean of research development and outreach for the UA College of Education.
Chavarria, a project team member, participated in the Upward Bound program while attending high school in Laredo, Texas. Not only did the project help her prepare for college, but it also supported several of her younger siblings and cousins, who went on to participate through her encouragement.
"Up until that point, I did not know what it meant to go to college, even though I said I would. The program lifted the veil of how college works," said Chavarria, who received a bachelor's in archaeology from the University of Texas, San Antonio, in 1988. She went on to earn a master's in archaeology and a doctorate in language, reading and culture from the UA in 1995 and 2000, respectively.
Upward Bound is schedule to begin at the UA in September. Students will attend labs to engage in college readiness activities and receive supplemental academic support, with a focus on mathematics, the language arts and the social sciences. In the process, they also will learn important workforce readiness skills related to research, communication and formal presentations.
Program participation will extend through the summer, during which students will continue their training and visit other higher-education institutions in Arizona and New Mexico. Interactive visits are being planned for students' family members. Students will participate in field trips to companies, museums, national parks and other locations, including Biosphere 2 and Catalina State Park.
"A lot of times, students from poverty stay in the same location where they grew up and don't have a chance to explore their own city," Chavarria said. "We want to make sure that they get to experience that freedom of access to their city, so that they can begin to imagine pursuing something that would allow them to see the rest of the world."
For now, the College of Education is working with Pueblo Magnet and Cholla high schools to identify students to apply for participation, and it expects to involve at least 60 in the first year. The team also is identifying UA undergraduates to serve as mentors and tutors.
Ronald Marx, dean of the College of Education, emphasized the importance of expanded education access and culturally relevant support.
"More education equates to more engagement in the life of the community. Those with more education follow the news more — they are well informed and vote at higher rates. They run for office, volunteer for civic activities and provide leadership for their communities and their cities," Marx said.
Marx also spoke to educational benefits not directed related to economics, noting that those who receive a strong education tend to lead lives that are happier and healthier than those who do not.
"The economic benefits derive from these social benefits, and they are essential for sustaining democratic institutions," Marx said. "Without a good education system, democracies fail. Without a good education system, a nation cannot afford the rest of what it means to provide a good life to all of its citizens. And a good education system can be good only if all of its students, both children and adults, have access to — and success in — that system. It is not a good system if only the rich and powerful benefit from it."
Landing Grant Was Team Effort
Chavarria and another UA colleague had pursued Upward Bound funding about five years ago. They did not land the grant.
When the call for project requests arrived this time, Chavarria was working with Lee and also Nura Dualeh, the UA's director of undergraduate research and graduate preparation programs.
Chavarria and Dualeh decided to seek support for grant writing. They reached out to Kimberly Espy, the UA's senior vice president for research, and Vincent Del Casino, vice provost for digital learning and student engagement. Both agreed to provide funds necessary to hire a grant writer to help pursue the grant. Ultimately, the team hired Karen Cassidy of Governmental Grant Professionals to write the Upward Bound grant, and several others.
"The grant writer did such a great job," Chavarria said. "But it was through Kimberly's and Vin's financial support that we were even able to hire a grant writer. That made it possible for us to submit a good proposal, which is why I am so grateful that they trusted us and supported us when we reached out for support."