WSU's Upward Bound Wichita Prep makes all the difference
One great thing about successful alumni like Christy James is their desire to “pay it forward.” But like many prospective college students, James didn’t start out on a path to higher education. For her, the power to thrive in college and become a successful individual came from her experience with Upward Bound Wichita Prep (UBWP) at Wichita State University.
James is a language arts and “Take Flight” teacher at Derby High School who completed a bachelor’s degree at WSU in 2010 and her master’s in 2013. She’s been involved with TRIO programs in different capacities for 13 years.
The road to college
Before she signed up for the UBWP program at the age of 14, James was not a strong candidate for college. Prior to TRIO, James admits that she was a “C” and “D” student, but it was a pair of “F” grades in her freshman year of high school that convinced her mom to enroll her in the Upward Bound summer camp.
“It wasn’t as much of a punishment as she expected it to be,” James said. “She didn’t know that it was more fun than anything else I’d ever done. But it also made me realize that I had to shape up.”
Before her first summer as a TRIO kid, college was just a fanciful idea for James. As a child, James says she thought about being a teacher or a fashion designer, but where to start and how to get there – those were things UBWP taught her.
“Upward Bound made sure that I went to college,” she said. “After my first summer in Wichita Prep, everything changed.”
Not only did UBWP’s rigorous academic expectations help prepare James for success in college, but the program provided practical training on everything from time and money management to dealing with diversity, roommates and financial aid. By the time her senior year came around, James was confident and prepared for college, especially compared to friends who were stressing to figure it all out.
“Because of TRIO, college wasn’t a surprise to me,” she said. “I had the advantage of Rhonda Hicks, who started talking about scholarships my junior year. She made sure we stayed on top of things like that.”
Hicks is the director of UBWP at Wichita State. She started with the program in September 1999 and was herself a beneficiary of TRIO; a first generation, limited income student who wasn’t sure if she would attend college until a high school counselor introduced her to TRIO’s Project Discovery.
“What Christy experienced with the Upward Bound Wichita Prep program proves that TRIO works,” Hicks said. “We provide hope and enlightenment to students who know, deep down, that they can do better and want to realize their college dreams but do not know how. We awaken the greatness that is within them.”
During her time at WSU, James also participated in TRIO’s McNair Scholars Program and worked as an Upward Bound tutor and instructor. According to James, the demanding nature of UBWP not only forges students into scholars, but gives them a common bond.
“The friends you make in TRIO you keep for life,” she said. “We keep in contact on a weekly basis. All of us have graduated college, and several of us have finished grad school. We’re taking full advantage of every opportunity we can, and we’re paying it forward. Wichita Prep really changed my life.”
Preparing for the future
Today, UBWP prepares 92 local students for success in higher education and future careers by providing academic instruction, tutorial assistance, personal and academic counseling, postsecondary assistance, multicultural exposure and career development. Hicks describes TRIO programs as “evergreen” – no matter what the economy is doing or how lawmakers re-interpret public education, she said, programs like UBWP are always pushing to serve students and their families.
“Upward Bound is here for the long haul,” Hicks said. “We do not just serve a student for one year and send them on their way – this is why the Upward Bound model is so powerful. Students know we are consistent, and they know that we love what we do and that we love them. We love to serve.”