“I Can See College Right There and I Know I Can Do It:” ATU Upward Bound Students Share Their Experience

ATU Upward Bound Summer 2022 Interview Subjects
Photographed (from left-to-right): Eden Lusk, Mykaila Rodriguez, Bryan Olguin, Nathaniel Sparks and Samantha Rhoades, all of whom are enrolled in Upward Bound programs through Arkansas Tech University.

Before he enrolled in the Upward Bound program at Arkansas Tech University, Nathaniel Sparks of Lamar thought college was beyond his grasp.

Now, he has an interest in studying international business as a means of pursuing a career that will allow him to see the world.

“When I first got into ninth grade, I thought college was so far-fetched,” said Sparks. “I didn’t think I could do it, I didn’t think I could afford it and all this. With Upward Bound, I’ve learned about financial aid and things that can help us study for exams. I’ve learned that professors are there to help me. They want you to understand so you can be prepared. I know that degree will help me boost what I want to do.”

Sparks’ Upward Bound experience has been influenced by Upward Bound staff members such as Shawna Davis, who has helped Sparks sharpen his focus in the classroom.

“Ms. Shawna really talks about respect,” said Sparks. “We respect our teachers by listening and taking notes, and I do that as much as I can in class. I’ve come to appreciate teachers more. They go out of their way during the summer to teach us these things. That’s a truly dedicated person to their career. I really like that.”

Sparks has reciprocated that level of dedication by engaging in Upward Bound math programs that have prepared him for success in his classes at Lamar High School, where he will be a senior in 2022-23.

“I took Algebra II at Upward Bound last summer, so when I got in there for Algebra II (at Lamar High School) I knew a good portion of what was being taught that no one else knew about,” said Sparks. “Now I’m taking College Math…and I’m looking at all these functions…I never would have known this. I’m glad I’m learning this before I go into my senior year and then college.”

Mykaila Rodriguez of Havana has found similar benefits from her involvement in Upward Bound.

“I thought it was going to be really hard, but it’s been fun and helped introduce us to what we’re going to learn in school next year,” said Rodriguez, who will be a junior at Western Yell County High School in 2022-23. “(Upward Bound) has helped me stay on top of my work. It makes me realize that I need to get this done to maintain my grades and get into college. I’ve become more confident in trying things that are new. I can see college right there and I know I can do it.”

As a straight A student, Bryan Olguin of Ola was already excelling on the academic side. Upward Bound has helped him come out of his shell beyond the classroom.

“During the summer program, you meet so many new people,” said Olguin. “At first I was kind of shy about it, but I’m more outgoing now. I used to just be a gamer. Now, I can actually go hang out with people.”

Olguin, who will be a senior at Two Rivers High School in 2022-23, became interested in cars as a result of the “Fast and Furious” movie franchise. He wants to study engineering in college with an eye on the automotive industry as a possible career path.

Samantha Rhoades of Danville overcame initial anxiety about Upward Bound and found mentors who are helping her pursue her dream of becoming a surgeon.

“I was scared because I didn’t know what to expect,” said Rhoades, who will be a sophomore at Danville High School in 2022-23. “I have made a lot of new friends and I’ve learned new ways to make friends instead of being more of an introvert. I love all the counselors. They’re really open and talkative. They’ll take you in, and if you need anything they’ll help you. I feel more prepared for college.”

Eden Lusk of Hector said Upward Bound academic programming has accelerated her understanding of material and helped her succeed in the classroom.

Upward Bound has also widened Lusk’s world view.

“It is really good for making new friends and it helps you advance in life,” said Lusk, who will be a junior at Hector High School in 2022-23. “It helps you get out there. I’m not a talker. I’m not going to go up to someone and just talk, but Upward Bound puts you out of your comfort zone. I love meeting all the amazing people. The recreation nights, movie nights, game nights and dance parties…you meet great people and it’s a lot of fun. It’s really eye opening. I come from a small town, and I don’t see a lot of variety of people. This opens your eyes and allows you to meet amazing people you might have never met before.”

Lusk’s career goals include law enforcement with the possibility of becoming a detective one day.

“You get to help people,” said Lusk when asked why that career path appeals to her. “When someone is in need, you can go to them and help them.”

When Lusk attains her goals, she will reflect fondly upon Upward Bound and the benefits it provided to her and her peers.

“(Upward Bound) helps kids who wouldn’t necessarily have a chance of going to college or becoming the first in their family to go to college,” said Lusk. “Upward Bound gets their foot in the door and helps them take that first step toward going for their dreams.”

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

During the school year, representatives from ATU go into partner high schools to provide academic support for Upward Bound program participants.

Participants in the federally-funded initiatives are exposed to a variety of resources and experiences designed to prepare them for college enrollment and success. Students selected for Upward Bound must meet income guidelines as set by the federal government and/or be a potential first-generation college student.

From May 31-July 1, approximately 100 ATU Upward Bound students are participating in a summer program that allows them to live and learn on the Arkansas Tech campus in Russellville.

For selected students, the experience will continue with an Upward Bound trip to Colorado Springs, Colo., July 5-9.

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. Lauren Pipkin is the unit’s administrative assistant.

Visit www.atu.edu/upbound and www.atu.edu/ubms to learn more about Upward Bound programs at ATU.