A pioneer of college access and academic excellence, Montana State University Billings’ Upward Bound has served students from the Billings school district for nearly two decades.
Now 50 years old, Upward Bound is an outgrowth of the Johnson administration’s War on Poverty, and is one among three federally funded programs under an umbrella called TRiO designed to prepare low-income and first-generation students for college and success.
The centerpiece of Upward Bound is an academic summer residential program where students attend enrichment classes at MSU Billings, mimicking a college schedule.
“We are all here to advantage our way of succeeding in life,” said Sarah Prescott, a West High School 10th-grader. “Upward Bound opens up wide doors of opportunities for us that we otherwise wouldn’t have.”
Prescott, a second-year returning Upward Bound student, is one of 36 high school students participating in the six-week program. Students stay and dine in residential halls while at MSU Billings, taking part in mock college experiences.
The program consists of classes including math, science, English and German languages, art and online coursework — all of which are geared toward helping students succeed in their high school course work and prepare for college.
MSU Billings faculty and school district teachers develop the curriculum, highlighting a week-long field trip that focuses on a different theme each year increasing students’ exposure to various career opportunities.
“The goal is to show that coursework is interrelated, integrated and relevant,” MSU Billings Upward Bound Director Dan Benge said.
Last year, the summer program curriculum focused on forensic science. During a field trip to Colorado, students visited with crime scene detectives and other experts while touring a crime scene lab and an evidence lockup lab. Students also toured three universities meeting with various professors and students.
The curriculum this summer focuses on global health, a topic voted on by returning Upward Bound students. The group left for their field trip to Utah this morning where they will visit medical schools, hospitals and will attend a health and human rights presentation. For Prescott, the summer field trip is an opportunity of a lifetime.
“I’m considering internal medicine as a career,” Prescott said. “The trip and activities planned will be such a great opportunity to meet medical professors and medical students.”
Students begin Upward Bound in the ninth grade and participate through their senior year, meeting one Saturday of every month during the school year.
“We are embedded in the schools and we develop relationships with students early on, ” Benge said. “We follow them all the way through high school, hopefully into college, and even into their careers.”
Benge said that he and the Upward Bound staff help facilitate students’ transition from high school to college by assisting students find funding and resources for college through scholarships, grants, free tutoring and test preparation.
“We work closely with each participating student to help them choose their right path, and acquire the skills to achieve their goals,” Benge said.
There are five Upward Bound programs statewide and roughly 400 students served. Of those, MSU Billings serves 75.
“Unfortunately, the program only serves 7 percent of the eligible population,” Benge said. “But we are a good return on the investment.”
More than three quarters of all students who have participated in Upward Bound and other TRiO programs have enrolled in college following high school graduation, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Sonja Choriki, a senior criminal justice major at MSUB and vice president of the student body government, is the student coordinator of the Upward Bound summer program, working as a liaison between team leaders, students and their parents. Educational Talent Search—also a TRiO program—recruited her when she was a student at Skyview High. A first-generation college student, Choriki says she recognizes something of herself in the high school students.
“Access to education is extremely important, but students don’t always know that college is an option,” Choriki said. “Upward Bound and Talent Search shows students that college is an option for everyone.”
“Sometimes there’s not a lot of positive influence for lower-income students that tells them to reach for more and push themselves,” Choriki added. “I think Upward Bound does a fantastic job of instilling confidence, exactly what’s needed for a lot of these students who want to go college.”