Upward Bound Celebrates Golden Anniversary as UTEP Celebrates Centennial

By Rodrigo Castaneda

UTEP News Service

What do Oprah Winfrey, author and journalist Wil Haygood, astronaut Jose Hernandez, NBA Hall of Fame player Patrick Ewing and Academy Award-nominated actresses Viola Davis and Angela Bassett have in common? They’re all part of the legacy of the success of Upward Bound.

Texas Western College, now The University of Texas at El Paso, was one of the first universities to adopt the Upward Bound program in 1965, the same year it began nationally. Backed by the Higher Education Act, the program’s goal was to prepare low-income and/or first-generation students to pursue a college degree.

Upward Bound students attending at UTEP pose while promoting the VIP Card Fundraising Project. Photo by Mike Aldrete
Upward Bound students at UTEP pose while promoting the VIP Card Fundraising Project. Photo by Mike Aldrete

“The road to college can be very intimidating and confusing for first-generation students whose families have limited resources,” said Maria “Tita” Yanar, director of Upward Bound at UTEP. “Upward Bound takes (the students) from the abstract to the reality and prepares them academically and developmentally for the challenge.

“When you change the life of an individual through education, you profoundly impact not only that student’s life, but the lives of siblings, family members and friends, as well as the destiny of his or her children. Education is the great equalizer; it has the power to reinvent and empower,” she continued.

Ramon Dominguez, Ph.D., was one of the first students brought to UTEP to participate in Upward Bound.

“Through the guidance of the UTEP Upward Bound Program, I realized the importance of higher education,” he said. “I was provided the opportunity to understand the meaning of attaining a college degree and reflecting on the contributions I could make to my community by obtaining a college credential.”

Dominguez earned two degrees at UTEP: a bachelor’s in secondary education in 1971 and a master’s in counseling and guidance in 1974. He received his doctorate in educational administration from New Mexico State University in 1986. He retired as an associate professor at NMSU in 2013.

As UTEP celebrates its Centennial Year in 2014, there are nearly 1,000 Upward Bound programs across the country and more than 2 million people have participated throughout the program’s history.

Upward Bound is a free, year-round college prep program for high school students and is funded by the United States Department of Education through competitive five-year grants.

Participating colleges are paired with under-resourced high schools to provide students with essential support and opportunities for success in their higher education goals.

Students must meet certain qualifications and complete a rigorous admissions process in order to be selected. Once selected, students between the ages of 13 and 19 remain in the program until they graduate from high school and complete their first summer semester of college-level studies.

Enrolled students, their parents and schools work together with Upward Bound staff to cultivate the self-confidence, self-discipline and responsibility needed to build a strong foundation for achieving success in high school, college and life.

“My involvement and experience with Upward Bound was priceless,” said Angie Moreno, Upward Bound Bridge Coordinator at UTEP for the past 18 years.

Moreno was raised in the Segundo Barrio neighborhood and attended Bowie High School. She juggled her time between school and helping out her parents at a bakery.

Average but promising, her counselor saw potential and provided her with an Upward Bound application her sophomore year.

“It was not until my interview with Arturo Lazarin, the Upward Bound assistant director, (during my junior year) that I realized how much I needed to learn about college and I was grateful to have the program guide me,” Moreno said.

Following her graduation in the summer of 1972, Moreno joined the Bridge Program and started college. Despite hitting a few roadblocks, the program’s staff continued to support Moreno in her college endeavors and their efforts paid off when she graduated.

Upward Bound alumni are encouraged to participate in the Bridge Program component immediately after their high school graduation. The Bridge Program helps seniors make the transition from high school to college by guiding them through admissions and financial aid in addition to providing counseling and tutoring.

“Upward Bound helped me want to be an example for other Hispanics who are trying to achieve the American dream,” said Luisa Ruiz Mendoza, a UTEP Upward Bound participant who later went on to earn a master’s in higher education administration from UTEP. “They prepared me to excel academically no matter what academic obstacles I faced.”

Increasing the rate at which students complete secondary education and enroll and graduate from institutions of higher education determines Upward Bound’s success. It accomplishes this by providing supplementary academic assistance, college readiness developmental instruction and college admission information, along with other services and resources.

“Although young, I know the meaning of sacrifice and take great pride in the accomplishments that have allowed me to defy destiny,” said Monica Delgado, a 2007 Upward Bound graduate.

Delgado came to the United States from Mexico at the age of 15. She knew no English and enrolled as a freshman in the English as a Second Language program at Ysleta High School.

Three years later, she graduated fifth in her class and her outstanding academic and extracurricular credentials qualified her for multiple scholarships, among them the Bill Gates Millennium Scholarship.

In 2011, she graduated magna cum laude and in the top 10 of her class from UTEP with a bachelor’s in biological sciences. This year, she earned her master’s degree in pathobiology. She will start her doctoral degree in biomedical engineering this fall at UTEP.

As the Upward Bound program celebrates 50 years of guiding students to achieving success, now-famous alumni such as Oprah Winfrey, Wil Haygood, Jose Hernandez, Patrick Ewing, Viola Davis and Angela Bassett serve as reminders that they too were once students who found their start in life through Upward Bound.