Upward Bound is a federally-funded program for low income and/or first-generation college-bound high school students. Carla Williamson, Upward Bound director, said the program has been successful at bringing students to Southern Arkansas University.

“It’s one of the first programs under the umbrella of TRIO,” Williamson said. “It came from President Johnson in 1964; he wanted to find some means of fighting the War on Poverty and originated TRIO. Upward Bound is the longest-running TRIO program.”

There are more than 600 Upward Bound programs across the nation. SAU’s program provides academic tutoring, counseling, career orientation and cultural and social enrichment activities to 150 South Arkansas high school students (grades 9-12) living within 50 miles of SAU.

Gabrielle Davis, SAU’s 2016 Homecoming queen, spoke to the benefits of Upward Bound.

“UB bridged the financial and educational gap I faced,” said Davis, a native of Magnolia, Ark. “It provided me direction and encouraged me to take the road less traveled. It helped me transition from high school to college.”

Williamson said she has been with the Upward Bound program for 15 years and director of the program at SAU for three years. “This has been the most rewarding job I’ve had,” she said. “I’m from Magnolia, and I know a lot of these students and their families. I know some of the struggles and hardships. When I see (students) overcome those hardships by pressing on through graduation from high school, and lastly college, and they walk across that stage, it’s rewarding because I know that they did it and Upward Bound was a small stepping stone to help them get there. It makes me enjoy my job even more. It’s all about them and their hard work. We know they have it in them – sometimes, we just need to give them a little push.”

She said that many Upward Bound students who graduated from SAU and other universities “write or call or visit and share how much the program helped them.”

Upward Bound has a staff of seven on the SAU campus. Tutoring is offered, and she said the program is always in need of more tutors. “We have two programs, one that operates during the week and one on Saturday,” she said. “We have two assistant directors; one tutor, outreach coordinator and student development coordinator, and administrative specialist who works diligently for those programs.”

“We get comments from classroom instructors and counselors from the target area schools letting us know which students have the potential to go to college,” Williamson said. “They see these students on a daily basis. Their GPA gives us good insight into whether they are college material.” Students are required to have a GPA of 2.5 or better.

Upward Bound students are monitored throughout high school and given the opportunity to prepare for college via summer programs on the campus of SAU.

“When our participants reach their 12th-grade year, they go through the Bridge Program, which is held during the first summer session here at SAU,” Williamson said. “Our admissions and advising departments place them in classes so they get their first six hours of college credit.”

Prior to Bridge, high school sophomores and juniors live on campus for a five-week summer program designed to help them understand college life.

“They get up, eat breakfast and go to class at 8:00. It’s a rigorous curriculum,” Williamson said. “They have to implement time management skills, study skills and recreation, and take courses that will help them understand more about college.”

She said that students who come to SAU after the Bridge Program “know their way around. When they start their fall year, they know where all the residence halls are and all the departments that they will need to know throughout their college career. Some of them don’t like getting up that early in the morning, but they see later what it was worth, and this helps the students prepare for higher education.”

Upward Bound also assists parents, Williamson said, providing much-needed information and insight into the process their children are involved in.

“We offer a College Night, which gives them everything we know they will need prior to their students entering college,” Williamson said. “Also, on Financial Aid Night, we have the parents come out and meet with our financial aid representatives who help them go through the application processes. Most of them have never filled out financial aid paperwork; we help them work through all of that.”

She said Upward Bound has even encouraged some parents to go to college. “If you educate one in a family,” Williamson said, “you educate the entire family. I believe that.”

Once Upward Bound students become freshmen at SAU, they become eligible for Student Support Services, which provides resources to retain those students. “There is a progression from one program to the next,” she said.

For more information about Upward Bound, contact Williamson at 870-235-4160 or 870-235-4394. Her email address is carlawilliamson@saumag.edu