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August Community Game Changer

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Assistant Director and MSU Denver alumna Pamela Osborne helps students prepare for college through MSU Denver’s High School Upward Bound program. The national TRiO High School Upward Bound program celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Photo by Jessica Taves

MSU Denver Upward Bound program prepares low-income and first-generation students for college
By Emily Davies

What’s the best way to describe the TRiO High School Upward Bound program at Metropolitan State University of Denver? Two words: Paulette McIntosh.

McIntosh, the program’s director and principal investigator, is a veritable walking billboard for Upward Bound’s continued success at preparing low-income, first-generation high school students for college. She graduated from the program in 1972 and went on to earn her bachelor’s in performing arts from MSU Denver in 1981.

“It means something to these kids when they learn that I came from a similar situation in terms of what they’re going through now,” says McIntosh, who was one of seven children raised by a single mother. “My mom would always tell me, ‘You need to get an education.’ Then she’d sigh and say, ‘But I don’t know how we can afford it.’”

McIntosh was entering the 10th grade when she and her mom first learned about High School Upward Bound, one of eight programs that fall under the federal TRIO umbrella, which helps low-income, first-generation college students and individuals with disabilities move from middle school to post-baccalaureate programs. TRIO programs, which are funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Education, serve more than 860,000 students across the nation.

MSU Denver has housed Upward Bound since 1974, and its program serves up to 85 high school students annually. Participants receive supplemental instruction with a particular emphasis on subjects such as math, science, reading and writing, in addition to one-on-one tutoring and internships with campus departments and community organizations. Upward Bound also works to educate participants and their parents about financial aid sources and what they need to do to apply for that aid.

Students can begin in Upward Bound as rising 9th graders. Once they are admitted to the program—a process that entails an 11-page application and an in-person interview that includes their parents—they are asked to commit to it through their high school graduation.

“This is a comprehensive program,” says Pamela Osborne (B.A. human services ’90), assistant director of Upward Bound. “Our students are required to come to campus every day year-round, after school and even during the summer. When you’re in high school and all your friends are hanging out, that can be really challenging.”

Also challenging are the conditions many students face at home. “Preparing for college doesn’t begin in the 11th grade. It takes a lot of planning and structure in the home as well,” says McIntosh. “A lot of these kids have no place to study in their homes. A lot of them don’t have access to computers. Some of them don’t even have electricity

“Poverty drives a lot of behavior in regards to school absences. It’s hard to think about going to school every day if your mom needs you at home watching your brothers and sisters so she can work.”

To help make it logistically easier for their students to get to the Upward Bound office every day, McIntosh and Osborne recruit from schools that are close to MSU Denver, targeting those with high drop-out rates and low-income students. “We take a holistic approach,” says McIntosh. “We work with students as well as their parents. Once parents see the benefits of the program, they often bring their other children here who in turn start to see education as a possibility whereas they didn’t before.”

Upward Bound may require hard work and commitment but it definitely pays off: 85 percent of students who graduate from the program enroll in post-secondary school, and roughly 46 percent go on to graduate from college.

“We’ve got former students who went on to earn master’s degrees and doctorates, and others who work in very high-level jobs. It’s incredibly inspiring,” Osborne says.

McIntosh agrees. “Upward Bound asks, ‘What’s the quality of your life going to look like?’” she says. “Our students develop a desire to go further and not just settle for what’s in front of them. They learn that anything is possible and they don’t have to settle for mediocrity.

Content Provided By Metropolitan State University of Denver

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