The St. Mary’s University Upward Bound Program has been awarded a $429,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to continue the work of helping all students with potential succeed in college.
The grant, which is expected to be worth a total of $1.7 million over the next four years, comes as the program celebrates its 40th year at St. Mary’s.
“Upward Bound is committed to giving all students the tools and support they need to succeed, both in preparing for college and in graduating from college,” said Jacqueline Dansby, Ph.D., the program’s director.
When Dansby works with high school students in the program, she knows first-hand it can be done. Dansby, who grew up in San Antonio, was a participant in the inaugural class of one of the nation’s earliest Upward Bound programs at Southwest Texas State (now Texas State University) in San Marcos. The Upward Bound Program was started by President Lyndon B. Johnson – himself a graduate of Southwest Texas.
“We felt a strong sense of responsibility to succeed,” Dansby said. And succeed she did: as a first generation college student attending an inner city high school, the inequities in educational opportunities placed Dansby at serious risk for not succeeding in post-secondary education. With a determination to make her educational dreams a reality, she was the salutatorian of her high school graduating class. Pursuing nontraditional fields of study, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and chemistry within three years, and later went on to earn master’s degrees in guidance and counseling, educational psychology and higher education administration. She also holds a doctorate from Texas A&M University in College Station in higher education administration.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Dansby planned to pursue a career in scientific research. But once again, Upward Bound changed her life. She began tutoring participants in the St. Mary’s University Upward Bound Program in mathematics and science in 1969 while still attending college. After receiving her undergraduate degree in 1971, she went to work full time for the program, becoming director in 1977.
As is the case with programs nationwide, Upward Bound at St. Mary’s provides a variety of services and support to students in high schools within the San Antonio Independent School District. The program works with school counselors to identify those with the potential to succeed in their post-secondary education, but with possible barriers, such as being from a low-income family or a family in which neither parent has a college degree.
Upward Bound offers instruction and tutoring in mathematics, science, composition, literature, foreign language and other subjects, as well as academic, personal and financial guidance. Participants learn about the college admission process and the ways they can pay for higher education, and are given opportunities to develop public speaking and leadership skills. Parents are encouraged to become involved partners in each child’s education.
The program is rigorous and demands a serious commitment from the students participating. Once selected, they spent virtually every Saturday for three years at St. Mary’s, with only holidays off. “The people who are doing the program are so committed. We see ourselves as a family,” Dansby said.
That dedication can have significant pay offs for the students, she said. Successes of recent program graduates include one Gates Millennium Scholar and a high school valedictorian. One member of the St. Mary’s faculty who teaches in the program, Lucien Manchester, Ph.D., a biology professor, is a graduate of Upward Bound.
Over the past 40 years, St. Mary’s Upward Bound has enjoyed much success. More than 90 percent of high school students in the program enroll in higher education the first semester after high school graduation, and more than 70 percent go on to earn their degrees. The number of program graduates must be in the thousands, but Dansby doesn’t think of success that way.
“I could provide a list and count them, but service through Upward Bound is really about changing one life at a time,” she said.