UChicago Upward Bound Receives $2.5 Million Grant

Five-Year Department of Education Grant Supports Underserved Students

The University of Chicago’s Upward Bound Program was launched by the Office of Special Programs-College Prep (OSP) in 1968 to help students expand their educational experiences beyond the school classroom. Since it was established, OSP has helped more than 4,000 low-income, academically under-resourced, and potential first-generation college students prepare for and complete high school and higher education. A new $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education will allow UChicago to continue the program through 2023. 

Upward Bound is administered, funded and implemented by the U.S. Department of Education under the Federal TRIO Programs, which are designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. TRIO includes eight programs that serve and assist low-income individuals, first-generation college students, homeless and individuals with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to post-baccalaureate programs. TRIO also includes a training program for directors and staff of TRIO projects. 

“For five decades, OSP has aspired to assist schools to close the educational opportunity gap that exists in under-resourced communities by providing an individualized system of support and enrichment to help participants overcome class, social, academic, and cultural barriers to higher education,” said Dovetta McKee, director of the Office of Special Programs-College Prep. “We believe it is important to focus attention on obstacles outside the classroom that limit the opportunities for students to learn the skills that will help to propel them toward personal and professional success.” 

Each year, OSP students participate in the KICP Yerkes Winter Institute, at Yerkes Observatory, in Williams Bay, Wisc. This year’s science activities explored how everyday electronics work.

UChicago Upward Bound not only provides participants with enriched academic instruction in mathematics, laboratory sciences, composition, literature, and foreign languages, but also college entrance exam preparation, advising on admissions requirements and applying to and paying for post-secondary programs, and identifying and researching future career possibilities. In addition, Upward Bound offers opportunities for students to experience a wide variety of near and distant college and university campuses. Students are able to participate in field trips to theaters, music venues, museums, national monuments and research institutions, including Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory. The program emphasizes the involvement of parents and guardians, advising and providing activities that enhance their understanding of the role they play in college admission and the financial aid process.

“OSP has been a catalyst for my intellectual and non-cognitive growth,” said Daweed Abdiel, an alumnus of the program and current Posse and Gates Millennium Scholar who is in his junior year at Denison University. “These skills will undoubtedly help me succeed in college.” 

To achieve its academic objectives, OSP has nurtured partnerships across the University of Chicago. These include a 25-year partnership with Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics to provide a multi-year science enrichment opportunity that comprises weekly laboratories taught on the Hyde Park campus, three-day winter and week-long summer residential science institutes at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisc. This sustained engagement offers students the opportunity to become familiar with the University research community and the culture of science. Upward Bound also collaborates with Court Theater to encourage self-expression and confidence, and with the Civic Knowledge Project’s Winning Words program to help students gain skills in critical thinking, imagination, literacy, perseverance, concentration, civility, and the ability to converse with others in mature and meaningful ways. Students also attend shows and performances on the UChicago campus to enrich their cultural experiences and diversity awareness. 

Shavon Edmond, an Upward Bound participant who attends Hyde Park Academy, said, “My grades have improved since I have been enrolled in Upward Bound. I attended summer classes, received tutorial support after school, and participated in workshops on Saturday -- all of which has helped me do well in the classes I am currently taking.” 

As one of the University’s multipronged initiatives designed to help students and families throughout the city of Chicago gain admission to, pay for, and thrive in college, UChicago Upward Bound serves students living in more than 23 community areas, with targeted emphasis on Douglas, Greater Grand Crossing, Washington Park, and Woodlawn. Currently, the program is working with 118 ninth through 12th-grade students attending Chicago Public Schools, including Emil G. Hirsch Metropolitan High School, Walter H. Dyett High School for the Arts, Hyde Park Academy, and Wendell Phillips Academy. During the most recent academic year, 2016-2017, 100 percent of the 20 UChicago Upward Bound seniors who graduated from high school enrolled in public or private institutions and received more than $3 million in scholarships and financial aid.  

Ashley Mickens, who also attends Hyde Park Academy, said, “The program helps students to prepare for the SAT, research colleges and scholarships, visit colleges, and talk to admissions officers. We use this information to find a college match. The staff helps you to make informed decisions about your college selection.” 

The Office of Special Programs-College Prep, with the Collegiate Scholars Program and Neighborhood Schools Program, is one of three college readiness and access programs in UChicago’s Office of Civic Engagement. Notable Office of Special Programs alumni include former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun, former Cook County Circuit Court Judge Michael Stuttley, Dawn Turner-Trice, author and newsier columnist and Dr. Shelley Yvette Poole Amuh, OB/GYN, Advocate Trinity Hospitals.  

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