For 40 years, Wesleyan’s Upward Bound Program has prepared hundreds of underrepresented local youth for college by providing rigorous academic summer experiences, motivational “boot camps,” college visits, and assistance with the challenging college application and financial application processes.
On Nov. 10, Upward Bound will celebrate its 40th anniversary inside Wesleyan’s newly renovated Fayerweather Building in the Edgar F. Beckham Hall. Beckham was one of the Upward Bound founders, and along with Willard McRae and others, they had a vision that local, low-income students should have the opportunity to consider the college dream.
“Upward Bound has been empowering eligible youth to pursue their dream of higher education,” said Donna Thompson ’80, Upward Bound project director. “Students receive so many negative messages from peers and adults saying ‘you can’t’ or ‘you don’t belong.’ We create a culture of challenging academic expectations and expect students to push themselves continuously.”
Thompson says many students confess that initially, they secretly believed that college was not a possibility for them.
“As they are the first in their families to consider college, our students become trailblazers for their extended families and friends,” she said. “Through intensive leadership development experiences and self-directed learning activities, coupled with high expectations from a committed staff, students gradually realize and demonstrate that their dreams can become reality.”
More than 80 percent of the students who begin the four-year commitment continue with the program compared with a 60 percent retention rate nationally. Between 90 and 95 percent enroll in college and graduate at significantly higher rates than their peers.
The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education, the Connecticut Department of Education, and the boards of education of the Middletown, Meriden, and Portland Schools. In addition, Upward Bound has received supplemental funding from the Liberty Bank Foundation and other sources.
“We are grateful for the many supporters and cheerleaders in the community who have believed in our mission over the years,” Thompson said.