Around Tappan Square

College Bound with Upward Bound

"You have to want to achieve," Christopher Donaldson '97 says with parental sternness. The gentle admonishment is part of a speech he has delivered to hundreds of high school students who are working to grasp a college education through the 25-year-old Upward Bound (UB) program at Oberlin.

Funded under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, Upward Bound is targeted toward low-income or prospective first-generation college students. Oberlin's program--one of 722 nationwide--is housed on campus, where Donaldson and his staff of three professionals and several Oberlin students strive to enhance the academic lives of 63 students enrolled at four Lorain County schools. The high school students undergo intensive one-on-one counseling sessions and after-school tutoring services with Oberlin students.

"The College offers programs like Upward Bound to increase retention, because we want all of our students to graduate," says Linda Gates '65, associate dean of Student Academic Services (SAS), which oversees UB and McNair, a program that prepares students for doctoral studies. "When I see SAS students walk across Oberlin's arch and get their degrees, I feel as if I'm getting a degree, too."

Oberlin UB students particularly enjoy the six-week Summer Program, a residential session that offers a taste of college life and structured 15-hour days. Supplemental courses are offered in languages, math, science, and social studies, for which students can earn one credit at their home schools--a perk that is unique to Oberlin's program.

"We are very much involved in these kids' lives," Donaldson says. "We get a copy of every midterm report and report card. If a student fails a subject or does poorly on an assignment, we want to know why so we can intervene. We are very much like parents; we do everything we can to prepare these kids for college."

In many public schools, he says, a single guidance counselor serves 200 to 400 students. Not all will be advised about a college curriculum. "We get to know our students well and can determine what techniques and learning environments are most suitable for each one," Donaldson says. "We also have to make sure that we are bringing students into this program who are serious about getting an education."
That's because the U.S. Department of Education requires that 95 percent of UB students graduate from high school. Of them, 85 percent must gain admittance to an accredited college, and 70 percent must graduate within six years. It's a lot of pressure for everyone involved, but the high standard yields success.

On February 23rd, also known as National TRIO Day, UB students took part in anniversary festivities that included a traditional banner march through campus--a fitting tribute to a program that has helped many in their journeys toward success.

Keynote speaker and Elyria City Law Director Terry Robinson '83 is one such success story; as an alumnus of UB and Oberlin College, he is the only African American male who practices law in Lorain County. "Many times we judge our success by someone else's standards. Those are mental barriers," he told the students. "The worst thing you can do is make the decision to quit."

Jason Williams, a first-year Oberlin College student from Lorain, still stops by the UB offices every so often for encouragement and support. Obie Terra Burnette '01, a former Oberlin High School student, says that UB raised her self esteem. "I felt like I could accomplish anything." An Oberlin biology major, she worked in UB's office for three years and, since graduating last May, plans to attend medical school.

"There was always a helping hand," Donavan Williams '03 told a room full of high school students, encouraging them to "work hard to succeed." The third-year Oberlin student is a Mellon program participant and was recently accepted into a Princeton research program this summer.

Michael Preacely '00, a Conservatory graduate and opera singer, was hired as UB's student development specialist last year. "I'm here because of the students," he says. "I love them."

by Yvonne Gay

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