St. Olaf Upward Bound program receives new funding

St. Olaf Upward Bound students on campus this summer included (back row, left to right) Yoshi Thao, Eli Giller, Bee Vang ’21, Faith Opakunle ’21, (front row, left to right) Rowda Bashir, Joquan Williams, Leslie Xiong ’21, and Mai Xiong.

The St. Olaf College Upward Bound (UB) program, a federally funded TRIO program designed to provide high school students with the academic and personal support they need to get to college, recently received an additional grant that will enable it to add 60 more students to the program’s current 88.

“The students are really excited about receiving both grants,” says St. Olaf Upward Bound Director Mari Avaloz.

St. Olaf has hosted Upward Bound since 1989 and currently has one of the largest programs in the state. With this additional funding, the program hosted at St. Olaf is now supported by two grants.

TRIO Programs are funded under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965. There are currently seven TRIO programs in total, and St. Olaf hosts four of them on campus: Educational Talent Search (ETS), McNair Scholars, Student Support Services (SSS), and Upward Bound.

Upward Bound helps high school students who are from families below 150 percent of poverty and would be the first generation in their family to earn a bachelor’s degree prepare for higher education. Participants receive instruction in literature, composition, mathematics, and science on and off college campuses after school, on Saturdays, and during the summer.

Along with classes, students also participate in a mentoring program and afternoon activities. They get to experience life on campus and gain a community of support.

“One thing I really like about Upward Bound is that they will go that extra step to make you feel like you are wanted and that you are safe. Whatever your home environment might be, if it’s something that’s hindering you, you can just talk to the staff and they’ll help ease it up, make you feel that you are still okay, and that you’re here today and nothing is going to change that,” says Faith Opakunle ’21, a recent Upward Bound graduate who is now a first-year student at St. Olaf.

“There are a lot of things that go unsaid and unnoticed that Upward Bound does,” says recent Upward Bound graduate Eli Giller, who now attends Saint Paul College. “All of us will have issues and things that happen outside of school that interfere with our learning process, but Upward Bound is always there. People go through life sometimes not having people to talk to and it’s really important for people, especially young students, to have that outlook, to be able to talk to people in a safe environment and express their emotions — they’re always there to talk with us and it’s really nice to have that.”

“I used to be a kid that knew nothing about college,” says rising high school senior Mai Xiong. “And now I’m here, visiting seven colleges, and I finally feel like I do belong at one of those colleges. That’s what Upward Bound does — it feels like they are taking you to the right place.”