Upward Bound gets students off the ground

Christina Ybarra, left, works with Andrea Estrada on a project. Photo by Rory Moore/The Et Cetera

Christina Ybarra, left, works with Andrea Estrada on a project. Photo by Rory Moore/The Et Cetera

CARMEN GUZMAN, Managing Editor

Andrea Estrada’s name is scribbled on a large whiteboard labeled ‘the brag board’ in Upward Bound’s second floor office. Underneath her name is a list of six universities that have offered her scholarships.

“As of right now, I’ve won the $1,000 scholarship for PCA,” Estrada said while completing another scholarship application on her laptop. “I have an offer for $100,000 from St. Louis University for their Vice President Scholarship, and I’ve also gotten $60,000 offered for LSU.”

Estrada, a business major, is one of 70 current students who credit their academic achievement to Upward Bound.

“I used to just go to school and do my classes,” Estrada said. “After Upward Bound, they helped me be more involved with [Dallas College]. They’d make me stay after school…I had activities during the weekends.”

Upward Bound is a TRIO program designed to help disadvantaged and first-generation students succeed in higher education. Every student who enrolls in Upward Bound is assigned a coordinator for academic support.

[READ MORE: TRIO equips students with tools for success]

The previous director and coordinators were promoted in December after a staff reshuffle. Currently, two coordinators help 70 students with scholarships, college applications and classwork.

Christina Ybarra, who was previously the administrative assistant for Upward Bound, is one of the new coordinators. Ybarra helps 35 students — including Estrada — stay on top of their academics.

“It’s been a bit hard on our students because they loved the old team,” Ybarra said. “They’re getting to know me in a different way.”

Coordinators work with individual students for six years, even following up with them after graduation.

According to an annual performance report, 40 out of 63 students currently enrolled in Upward Bound since 2017 graduated with an associate’s degree.

Upward Bound’s new director Nikomo Logan said the program helps students progress to the next stage.

“There is a good percentage of students who went beyond their associate,” Logan said. “They got their bachelor’s, and some are even working on their master’s degree. [Upward Bound] works.”

[READ MORE: A Graduate’s Journey]

Despite heavy caseloads, the coordinators seek to form one-to-one connections with their students.

Coordinator John Walsh champions the social aspect of the program as a primary component of success. Despite limitations presented by COVID-19, he and Ybarra spend most of their time interacting with students.

“I want to know who [the students] are because I could better understand what their passions are,” Walsh said. “And from there, I can provide different resources for careers. It’s opening a new world of education for them.”

Walsh doesn’t think Upward Bound is a replacement for counseling, but he said he sees improved performance in students who approach him for academic guidance.

“[Upward Bound] gives [students] a sense of purpose, gives them hope,” Walsh said. “There’s somebody in their corner to assist them.”

Estrada said she doesn’t know yet where she will continue her education, but she knows Upward Bound will help her decide on a university.

“[Ybarra] makes it interesting for me to keep looking for better [opportunities],” Estrada said. “She helps with everything in my life.”

Professor, counselor finds purpose through helping others