Building Partnerships to Expand Access

An opportunity for learning and support

Building Partnerships to Expand Access

The College of Education and Upward Bound enjoy a relationship that helps both advance their missions.

A student hard at work in Upward Bound program.

Last summer, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Jennifer Randall spoke with a group of high school students with whom she has a unique connection. The students were all part of Upward Bound—most will be the first in their families to attend college—while Randall is an Upward Bound alum and a role model for who these kids can be and what they can achieve. The meeting, observed Bridget Hynes, the assistant director of UMass Upward Bound, allowed the students see UMass and the College of Education as a place where they belong. “Her story inspired the students, and helped them see what they could look like in the future.”

The College of Education and Upward Bound enjoy a partnership where our faculty and students are able to support the program while expanding their opportunities for research and teaching experience. In the words of Hynes, the College of Education has “long been a fan and supporter of Upward Bound,” contributing academic expertise, time, energy, and physical space.

Upward Bound began nationally with the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which was a response to the Johnson Administration’s War on Poverty. The UMass Amherst program was one of the very first, and recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary with an alumni reunion.

A student in Upward Bound raises their hand.

UMass Upward Bound serves students from Springfield’s High School of Commerce whose parents do not have bachelor’s degrees and/or who qualify as low income. It’s goal is to increase the rate at which participants successfully complete high school, and enroll in and graduate from college. The staff and their partners work with students to build their academic and motivational skills, providing individual tutoring, career advising, SAT and MCAS prep, college-positive workshops, cultural enrichment, and much more. The program also addresses other issues critical to success in high school and college such as time management, self-discipline, responsibility, self-esteem, multicultural knowledge, social justice, and respect.

The flexible nature of Upward Bound allows the staff to be creative in their approaches to teaching, to make the academic part engaging and relatable to kids from diverse backgrounds. This summer they offered a course in the chemistry of cooking, where, for instance, they made caramel and determined the different levels of crystallization and the formulas behind it. They also offered a course called Engineering for the Zombie Apocalypse, where they learned survival skills like condensing water out of air.

However, the program is about far more than academics, and they take a holistic approach to supporting their students. “We recognize that the barriers that are there for them are substantial and are structural and sometimes create more likelihood that they’ve experienced trauma or create more circumstances of instability that make it difficult to just keep your notebooks all in one place,” Hynes explains. They structure the programming in a way that makes Upward Bound feel like a home and works against the barriers, making them as unobstructive as possible. This could range from turning around a low grade on a math test, to mourning the loss of a family member to gun violence without losing ground academically.

The College of Education has supported Upward Bound in a variety of ways, including physical—last summer they were able to run the complete summer program in Furcolo Hall for the first time, using our classrooms, computer labs, and gathering spaces.

Assistant Professor Sarah Fefer, who has helped Upward Bound implement a positive behavioral support program.

Individual College of Education faculty have also been supportive of the program. This includes Assistant Professor Sarah Fefer, who has helped Upward Bound implement a positive behavioral support program. Fefer also supervises a group of clinicians who help students who need extra support developing life skills, such as how to deal with anxiety, anger, stress, or loss. Further, two of Fefer’s graduate students, Ashley Thoma and Emily Zehngut, are currently working on a continuous improvement assessment project with Upward Bound.

Assistant Professor Zeke Kimball and Yedalis Ruíz, a doctoral program alumna, have undertaken a ethnographic study for the program, examining what it means for their students to be college going, what types of strengths they bring to the table, and what needs they have. “It was very powerful to have that study of our students as we formulated our programming,” Hynes explains. It helped them understand that there a lot of food insecurity among their students, more homelessness than they realized, and that some of the students just needed a safe place to come after school. “It allowed us to guide the programming in a very thoughtful and responsive way, so that were really thinking about what these youth need right now in terms of making themselves more college going—not what somebody who went to college 15 or 20 years ago thinks that they need.”

Upward Bound also gives excellent opportunities to UMass graduate and undergraduate students, inside and outside the College of Education. These include Yedalis Ruiz, who teaches a critical reflection course for the program and Ashley Carpenter, who teaches a class on college and career readiness. Isabela Perea, a current master’s student, has been a tutor mentor for two summers and volunteers with the youth during the school year. Vanna Garcia, who earned her M.Ed. this year, was a tutor mentor, became the Assistant Residential Supervisor this past summer, and volunteers regularly with the Upward Bound Saturday program.

It allows them to formulate their ideas, build curriculum, and think about ‘what do these inputs that I’m proposing look like, on the ground, when I’m trying to use them with a group of youth.'

Bridget Hynes

“It gives them some experience with the same youth that they’re researching and thinking about,” Haynes notes. “It allows them to formulate their ideas, build curriculum, and think about ‘what do these inputs that I’m proposing look like, on the ground, when I’m trying to use them with a group of youth.’”

Upward Bound hires undergraduates from all of the disciplines on campus, recruiting many through Civic Engagement & Service Learning and Student Bridges. The UMass students are also a very diverse group, with many students of color, which helps the young people in the program imagine themselves as successful college students as well.

Hynes notes that many of the undergraduates who work for them come to the program planning careers outside education, but leave planning to become teachers. These include a former tutor mentor, Moijue Kaikai, now a Ph.D. Candidate in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, who received a STEM grant to help with a solar project at Sci Tech in Springfield, and Khalif Nunnaly-Rivera, who works to prevent chronic truancy at Sci Tech. Not only is the program helping youth prepare to succeed in college, they’re helping create the next generation of teachers.

“I just find it’s a wonderful experience to watch that change,” says Hynes, to see them embrace the mission of educational access and educational advancement. “Being in with the young people and being in the program helped them articulate some of the things that were important to them in their lives and find a career that has meaning and purpose for them.”