On a recent visit to Washington State University’s Pullman campus, students from Upward Bound in Okanagan County gathered around large barrels containing young salmon at the College of Agricultural Sciences, Humanities and Natural Resources (CAHNRS).
For these first-generation, low-income high schoolers, a visit to a fish hatchery and nearby lab performing gene editing on fish was an opportunity to learn about a potential college major or even a career in salmon recovery that they did not know before.
“It showed me that college is so much 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 to 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 university education are few.
“Most of them haven’t traveled outside of their county and had the opportunity to see what careers are available beyond where they live,” Carranza said. “That’s why it’s so important that each of our students visit at least three or four campuses so they can see what careers are available.”
Essential program for college access
Carranza said Upward Bound’s mission is to create change “one family at a time,” and the numbers show it’s having a big impact. Nearly 70% of its students go directly to college after high school, and about 63% of them graduate from college within six years.
Carranza’s program currently serves 112 students from five high schools and is one of many at WSU; others are run 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 Success at 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 an essential program that strives to make college accessible to everyone, according to Nancy Deringer, acting associate dean for student success and academic programming at CAHNRS.
“The WSU can seem big and intimidating at first,” Deringer told the group touring the hatchery. “I let them know that our college, and WSU in general, offers lots of student support, opportunities to get involved in undergraduate research, and to work with great faculty.”
Swi Nun’tx Lezard, a sophomore at Omak High School, said having the chance to meet and listen to professors and graduate students talk about their work gave her the inspiration to go to the university.
“For me, Upward Bound was a life-changing experience,” Lezard said. “Before, I didn’t care about school and I failed my classes. Now I want to go to university to study astronomy.
Without programs like Upward Bound, Kristi Hutchins, board secretary at Tonasket High School, fears many students will fall through the cracks in the education system.
“We don’t have the resources to help kids like Upward Bound does,” Hutchins said. “It’s one of the only programs that supports students in their college preparation, and if even one student achieves their dream of furthering their education, that’s 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.