10:37 AM

Upward Bound Widens Its Reach

UHD Program Receives $4.3 Million Grant


By Sheryl E. Taylor

Helping Houston high school students recognize their academic potential and prepare for college has always been the goal of the Upward Bound program at UHD. Now, thanks to a $4.3 million grant (over the next five years), the program will be able to expand its offerings and services.

“We were astonished and excited because we could now widen our reach,” said Dawana Lewis, Director of Upward Bound at UHD. “We started from serving only 60 students to tripling our reach with a massive 175 students annually throughout the Houston area, beginning this Fall. We are creating a pipeline to higher education and making generational transformation with this grant."

UHD’s Upward Bound, a federally funded program, is receiving this highly competitive grant thanks to its quality programming, student success, and continually exceeding goals and quantitative objectives. The UB Program at UHD serves students from the Houston Independent School District through mentoring sessions, tutorials, test preparation, college tours, cultural excursions, social events, virtual tours (think the Bill and Melinda Gates Museum in Seattle), and career tours across the nation—all specifically catering to each student.

Lewis and her hardworking team coined the nickname “College Prep Central” for UHD’s Upward Bound program, which has been at the University since 1980.

“Our goal is to provide programming and resources to underrepresented populations and make higher education more accessible to low-income, first-generation college students,” Lewis noted. “This goal is achieved by developing soft skills as well as social and emotional IQ through real-world learning and field experiences. UHD’s Upward Bound program provides our students with academic instruction, tutoring, and advising; information on financial aid programs; assistance in completing financial aid applications; financial literacy; and support for applying to college.”

Lewis and Associate Director Cassandra Booker-Narcisse search for grants and serve as grant writers for the program. “We spend many late nights and weekends seeking out these grants. We are fueled by the needs of our students—from the pandemic to the shift in our economy to their mental wellbeing.” Lewis led the effort to form a grant team and determine how to continue reaching students as well as an internal “think tank” (UB staffers Pat Hartwell, Joyce Hobbs, Lauren Hill, Vicki Lacy, LaTanya Miles) to research the new needs of students.

“Our scholars grow academically and socially,” said Booker-Narcisse. “They are like caterpillars who metamorphize into butterflies, realizing their potential in ways they never considered. They are more confident and stronger individuals. We see improved academic achievement and greater interest in college.”  

In addition to the program and scholarship support provided by the Houston Chapter of The Drifters, Inc. and the Houston Chapter of The Links, Inc., greater Houston businesses (McCormick & Schmick’s, Mia’s Table, and Ambassador Restaurant) have offered in-kind support. Also, the Houston City Breakfast Club gave scholarships to several UB students. Summer 2022 Upward Bound scholars received the Affordable Robot Kit—a senior design project created by mechanical engineering students at Duke University that uses 3D-printed structural pieces.

“The program enhances student success and elevates the University’s visibility—both initiatives of President Blanchard,” emphasized Lewis. “We are creating a pipeline to higher education and UHD specifically. We want to expose and provide our students with a peek at University life on campus during the Summer, Fall, and Spring semesters as early as ninth grade.”

Lewis also noted that students in their senior year can enter a summer work-study program to earn college credits at UHD through its BRIDGE program—project-sponsored credit courses prepare students for the first Fall semester of college enrollment at their school of choice. “This opportunity for students has increased enrollment at UHD, within the University of Houston System, as well as at other colleges across the nation—at both undergraduate and graduate levels.”

UHD Freshman Annie Meza was first introduced to Upward Bound as a high school student. Now she's giving back to the program by serving as a mentor. “This program helped me apply and create a pathway to college,” she said. “I hope to do the same for other students in need of mentoring. I enjoy seeing the smiles and impact we’re able to make in students’ lives.” 

Kennedy Bosie, an alum of Upward Bound’s 2019 class at UHD, says the program enabled her to get into the college of her dreams. She attended Houston’s South Early College High School, where she earned a high school diploma while earning a degree at Houston Community College simultaneously. At a family friend’s suggestion, she decided to try Upward Bound.

“I started my journey at Upward Bound as a rising junior; at the time, I had no idea what my future held. I also had a lot of anxiety because I was arriving late when some students had been there since their first year of high school,” Bosie said. “I was welcomed with open arms and treated like family from the beginning, with both the staff and students creating an accommodating environment that helped me thrive during my high school career.”

Her determination and tenacious spirit enabled her to maintain a heavy academic load while attending HCC every day. “UB allowed me to come into the program late and receive full credit, offered tutoring, provided office space to work on my academic assignments, and gave me counseling on potential career paths.” Bosie is the recipient of a Houston City Breakfast Club scholarship.

Through Upward Bound’s aid, “I was accepted to the college of my dreams, the University of North Texas, and graduated early with honors in December 2021 with a Bachelor of Arts in English,” said Bosie. “I was elated when Upward Bound invited me back to work for them since I had such an amazing experience as a student. My goal as a mentor is to give that same space, opportunities, and experiences to the new students that are a part of our great family.”

Upward Bound was this country’s first federal program implemented to help low-income students prepare for college. The U.S. Department of Education started the Upward Bound Program nearly 60 years ago. It emerged out of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 as part of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration’s War on Poverty. Since its inception, Upward Bound has provided educational outreach to more than two million students nationally.

“I am incredibly proud to have touched the lives of students over the years,” said Lewis. “I am also proud to have been in the position for over 30 years with the same Assistant Director, where we have served more than 1,347 students, with 70 percent of those attending college, graduating. We are creating generational transformation … a true mark of success. I’m also thankful to be part of a supportive community dedicated to inclusivity and creating a just and sustainable future for all.”

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.