Confidence Built, Goals Set in Upward Bound

This Fred Lewis — the one able to meet a stranger and immediately begin talking about his experiences in Upward Bound at Arkansas Tech University — is not the same Fred Lewis who entered the program less than three years ago.

“It’s helped me open up more,” said Lewis, who will be a senior at Western Yell County High School in fall 2018. “I used to stay in my room and not talk to people, and at school I would only stay in my close friend group. That’s how I was before I started (Upward Bound) in ninth grade. Here, everybody is new. Nobody knows anybody except for the people from your school. I’ve grown as a person, opened my mind to more people and been able to express myself to more people. I have a better understanding of the world. Even if we’re different, we can still be friends.”

Upward Bound has provided Lewis with the confidence necessary to pursue his passion in computer programming.

“We had a programming option at school and I was afraid to take it because I’d always heard it was harder than any other class,” said Lewis. “But Upward Bound teaches us to test our limits and put our best foot forward, so I took it this past year. If I didn’t have Upward Bound, I probably wouldn’t have taken the class. I used to just take classes my buddies were taking. Now, I’m like, they can take that, I don’t want to do that. I want to do me.”

Lewis is one of 120 Upward Bound students from high schools in Johnson, Pope and Yell counties who are living at ATU this summer, attending classes and participating in co-curricular activities, all of which is designed to prepare them for life as a college student.

“I had friends who were a year older than me, and they were in Upward Bound,” said Shelby Brown of Hector, who will be a high school senior in 2018-19. “They kept telling me that I would enjoy it and that I should try to get in the first year that I could, which was ninth grade. I got in, and it was great. I got a lot of friends out of it because we all had the same interests. We all go to small schools, so coming to Upward Bound I got to see there are people who have the same sense of humor and are kind of like me.”

Upward Bound is a federally-funded program that serves high school students with identified class, social and cultural barriers to higher education as defined by TRIO, a federal initiative created in 1965.

Students selected for the program must meet income guidelines as set by the federal government and/or be a potential first-generation college student.

“In summer program you are with students from every school,” said Brown, who is interested in studying elementary education and psychology in college. “We’re literally living together, so you’re always together and making new friendships and connections. It’s like a team. It’s cool that I have this experience. I will have a lot more under my belt than most kids my age and hopefully be able to help some of my friends prepare for college.”

The Upward Bound classic program at ATU serves students from the public high schools in Atkins, Dover, Hector, Lamar and Pottsville. ATU’s Upward Bound math and science program is for public high school students from Danville, Dardanelle, Two Rivers and Western Yell County.

Jill Hendricks is the director of Upward Bound programs at Arkansas Tech. Shawna Davis and Annie McNeely serve in the role of target school liaison. Chrissy Vang is the unit’s administrative assistant.

Jessica Taylor of Pottsville became involved with Upward Bound during her 10th grade year. She is preparing to begin her freshman year at ATU this fall.

“I was forced to make friends because my group of friends didn’t come with me,” said Taylor. “I think that was good. I’m a very quiet person, but I think this will help me in college because I know how to talk to people more and how to get to know them. I’m quirky, but it’s okay. We all have our quirks. Upward Bound is really good about letting us all be individuals and embrace our individuality.

“I definitely love the summer program because we get to live on campus and get the college experience,” continued Taylor. “This summer I’m taking college classes, and I’m figuring out how to study best, take my quizzes and pace myself. I’m really enjoying it. It’s very diverse, and I think that’s very good. It’s good to learn about other people.”

Zariya Williams of Dardanelle will also be a freshman at ATU in fall 2018. She plans on majoring in political science.

“From the little things like knowing how to read the schedule to knowing when to register for classes to knowing more about the Tech campus, I pretty much learned it all in Upward Bound,” said Williams. “I socialize a lot more than I used to. I’d be so scared coming this fall if I didn’t know anything about Tech. I’ve been able to network and meet a lot of different people. I knew that coming to Tech, I wouldn’t have just my regular Dardanelle friends. Now, I know some of the professors, I know where my classes will be and I know how to get around. I know how it works.”

Knowledge yields confidence. Confidence yields the power to dream big.

Brown wants to travel and see a world beyond Arkansas. Williams wants to go to law school and open her own practice. The entrepreneurship thread also runs through the stories of Lewis, who would like to own a computer repair and training business, and Taylor, who wants to share her love of art with others.

“I’ve always wanted to go to college and then own an art business,” said Taylor. “It was just an idea, though. I was going to go to (college), and hopefully I would get it paid for, but I didn’t know how. It was ‘maybe the scholarships will just fall into place.’ And then, through Upward Bound, every month they would ask what scholarships I applied for this month. It was like, oh, I actually have to apply for those. I applied for a lot of scholarships, and now I have my college paid for. It’s so comforting to know that I can do this, and the study skills and test taking skills I have learned in Upward Bound are really going to help me. Before, college was scary. Now, I know I can do this.”