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Upward Bound can be a Life-Changing Experience for Students Living in Rural Communities

During a recent visit to the Washington State University Pullman campus, Upward Bound students from Okanagan County gathered around big barrels containing young salmon in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS).

For these first-generation and low-income high school students, the tour of a fish hatchery and nearby lab conducting gene editing on fish was an opportunity to discover a potential college major or even a career in salmon recovery they did not previously know about.

“It showed me that college is a lot more than just reading boring textbooks,” said MaKenna Morales, a senior at Okanagan High School. “You can do a lot of fun and interesting things.”

Exposure to higher education is important for Morales and her fellow Upward Bound participants, said Meghan Carranza, director of Upward Bound in Student Affairs, because they come from rural communities in North Central Washington where jobs requiring a college education are few.

“Most of them have not traveled outside of their county and haven’t had an opportunity to see what careers are available beyond where they live,” Carranza said. “That’s why it is so important that every one of our students visits at least three or four campuses so they can see what careers are out there.”

Program critical for college access

Carranza said the mission of Upward Bound is to create change “one family at a time,” and the numbers show it is having a big impact. Nearly 70 percent of her students go directly to college after high school, and about 63 percent of them graduate from college within six years.

Carranza’s program currently serves 112 students from five high schools and is one of several at WSU; others are led by the Spokane and Tri-Cities campuses, as well as the Cougs Rise Upward Bound Program run by the Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement in Pullman. Each program helps students navigate high school, exposes them to college opportunities and career options, and helps them create a plan for their future. 

Upward Bound is a critical program that is working to make college accessible to everyone, according to Nancy Deringer, interim associate dean for student success and academic programming in CAHNRS. 

“WSU may seem big and intimidating at first,” Deringer explained to the group visiting the fish hatchery. “I let them know that our college, and WSU in general, provides a lot of support for students, opportunities to get involved with undergraduate research, and work with excellent faculty.”

Omak High School sophomore Swi Nun’tx Lezard said getting the chance to meet and listen to faculty and graduate students talk about their work gave her the inspiration to go to college.

“For me, Upward Bound has been a life-changing experience,” Lezard said. “Before, I didn’t care about school, and I was failing my classes. Now, I want to go to college to study astronomy.”

Without programs like Upward Bound, Tonasket High School Counseling Secretary Kristi Hutchins fears many students would fall through the cracks of the educational system.

“We don’t have the resources to help kids like Upward Bound does,” Hutchins said. “It is one of the only programs supporting students with college preparation, and if just one student navigates their dreams of furthering their education, it is a win!”

Upward Bound is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and is part of the TRIO family of programs designed to increase the number of first-generation and low-income students attending and graduating from college.