Cowley College has many programs that help high school students to transition to college.

One in particular, known as Upward Bound (UB), helps high school students from families that never have attended college to gain experience and credit toward college.

“Upward Bound offers a variety of services to high school students in a tri-county area in south-central Kansas,” said Mica Runnels, academic coordinator for the program.

“We offer an opportunity to be taught to the focus of igniting your inner light bulb.”

Upward Bound details

Upward Bound is a federal grant program that works with high school students who qualify under the federal low-income guidelines and first-generation college students — meaning neither parent has a four-year degree.

“Typically, the students are recruited during their freshman year of high school, but sophomores and juniors can enter the program,” said Liz Shepard, director of the Upward Bound program.

“Also, students who have completed their eighth-grade year will be accepted. This is made possible by our summer residential program.”

Summer Excellence Camp is a six-week residential program in which students attend classes in the morning.

Freshmen and sophomores attend career, major and self-awareness workshops in the afternoons, while juniors and seniors are in work-study positions on campus or out in the community. This allows them to gain a real feel for college, but in a positive and supportive environment.

“The goal of UB is to provide the opportunities to learn, grow and transition into college,” Shepard said. “For most of the students in the service area, college is not a top priority, nor is it always a possibility. UB gives those students the opportunity to make their dream a reality.

“Over my 16-plus years career as the UB program director, I have been truly amazed by the spirit and drive that is exhibited by these students.”

Upward Bound benefits

There’s so much more given to the students than what is written on paper.

On top of being taught good study habits, they also are supported in their athletics.

They also receive help with finding scholarships and ways for them to further their education — and they become part of the UB family.

“The staff become invested in their lives and pushes them, supports them, and encourages them to be the best they can be,” said Jeanne Harris, program assistant.

“We want to help these students see themselves in a better life and realize that it requires determination to rise above the life they know.”

During the academic year, the schedule is two Saturdays a month and a once-a-month visit at the student’s school.

Small-town vision

The area high schools that UB services are in Argonia, Arkansas City, Cedar Vale, Dexter, Oxford and Wellington.

In serving mostly rural communities, there are challenges for these students to see beyond the city limits of their towns.

“Upward Bound at Cowley College has made me aware of the effects that an isolated community has on its students’ ability to envision a post-secondary education and a life in a larger city,” Harris said.

UB is able to provide opportunities for those students see what the rest of the world around them has to offer.

“Watching students blossom under the extra attention that UB is able to provide is something the local schools cannot provide,” Shepard said.

“All of the services provided are crucial to the student’s development — whether it is social, cultural or educational.”

“Upward Bound, to me, means the opportunity to show a student a broader scope of life, education and self,” Runnels related.

UB doesn’t stop with a diploma — it remains as a beacon that success is possible, doable and attainable.

“There is always someone in your corner, ready to pull you up and remind you that you are worth it,” Shepard said.

In fact, one student put it like this: “Upward Bound can help you, if you try.”