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Meet the Valedictorians

College-bound BU Upward Bound graduates triumph

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When Brankely Garcia joined Boston University’s Upward Bound college preparatory program four years ago, she was a shy high school freshman and a new immigrant from the Dominican Republic, struggling with English. In June she graduated at the top of her class from Boston’s English High School. Like her Upward Bound peers, Garcia will be the first one in her family to attend college. “Be resilient and motivated, and it will get better when you think you are going to give up,” she told classmates, families, and teachers in her valedictory speech, ending with the quote, “Don’t tell me that the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon.”

Garcia, who is headed to Stonehill College later this month with plans to major in business, is one of three 2013 high school valedictorians who completed Upward Bound at BU. In addition, a valedictorian and a salutatorian successfully finished BU’s Upward Bound Math and Science program. All are 18 years old and most of them have been part of the fabric of BU since their freshman year. One of the valedictorians, William Phung (CAS’17), will attend BU as one of 25 Thomas M. Menino Scholars this fall.

Launched in 1965, Upward Bound at BU is part of a national program funded by the US Department of Education, which spawned UBMS in 1991; both programs fall under the umbrella of the DOE’s TRIO educational outreach programs. At BU the Upward Bound programs are based in the Boston Public Schools Collaborative Office at the School of Education.

“These five students represent what is best about SED, BU, Boston, and also our country,” says UB project manager Reggie Jean (CAS’95, SED’05). “They have accomplished so much through their hard work. Through Upward Bound, BU helps Boston high school students who are willing to work hard have a chance to accomplish big things and become future leaders.”

“In addition to preparing low-income and first-generation college-bound students for success in higher education, UBMS helps students develop their potential to excel in math and science and encourages them to pursue postsecondary degrees in those subjects,” says Allison Cox, project manager for UBMS at BU.

Recruited either from one of four target high schools or five target neighborhoods in Boston, and the City of Chelsea, the 86 UB and 50 UBMS students enrolled in the programs are from low-income families and are expected to remain in the program—which is free and includes an intensive six-week residential summer session on the Charles River Campus—until their high school graduation. Racking up scholarships from a string of foundations, the students have completed courses in a range of rigorous subjects, from chemistry to Shakespeare. Living in Warren Towers Sunday nights through Friday afternoons and using campus facilities, they get a taste of college life (and college food). The 2013 graduates went on a field trip to New York City and on a New Hampshire rock-climbing adventure.

UB students based at BU often join volunteer efforts, most recently Cradles to Crayons, which collects new and nearly new children’s items through community drives and corporate donations and distributes them to disadvantaged children. And they bond with peers, who, like Garcia, often come to the program nervous and a little wary, but emerge confident and excited about their futures. There is a lot of homework, but they also have a lot of fun, occasionally indulging in what UB graduate Mariama Bah calls “silly, childish things.” Her fellow UB graduates laugh at the description, but none would elaborate.

UBMS student and Chelsea High School salutatorian Lejla Skokic will attend Harvard University in the fall. She says the BU program was “really weird” at first. “It was hard to adjust to being away from home and being with a lot of people I didn’t know,” says Skokic, who hopes to pursue a career in global health. “But after spending a summer at BU I couldn’t wait to go back.” Bah, a graduate of the Community Academy of Science and Health in Dorchester, recalls her UB peers coaxing her up a steep outcrop during the rock-climbing challenge. Conquering her fear of heights was one of her greatest accomplishments, she says: “Since then I feel I can do anything.” Bah is doing a summer internship at a health clinic in Roxbury, and this fall she heads to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where she will study business or law—possibly both.

“I will never forget who I am—an Upward Bound alum,” Phung wrote in the UB Class of 2013 yearbook. The valedictorian at Snowden International School this past spring, Phung says his favorite UB class was advanced writing. Among his many essays was one about propaganda and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. He plans to study acting and business at BU.

When she was a freshman at Brighton High School, Blanca Lopez was handed an UBMS application by her physics teacher. “Do this program; it’s going to help you,” the teacher told Lopez, who also became a Posse Scholar. At the time the El Salvador native was just learning English (she is now fluent). But she showed an aptitude for science, and her favorite subject at UBMS was math. She’ll major in biology, with a concentration in neuroscience, at Bryn Mawr College.

What would her advice be to students considering Upward Bound? “It’s going to help you do better in school, have better social skills,” says Lopez. “It’s going to prepare you a lot.” And after you’ve completed UB, she adds, “you won’t be afraid to have adventures and take risks.”

9 Comments
Susan Seligson

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.

9 Comments on Meet the Valedictorians

  • Gabriella Campozano on 08.07.2013 at 8:39 am

    From one UB/Project Advance Alum (1989) to another: Congratulations to the latest class of graduates!! Very well deserved and wishing you all continued success! I leave you with this inspirational quote from Alan Alda
    “Laugh at yourself, but don’t ever aim your doubt at yourself. Be bold. When you embark for strange places, don’t leave any of yourself safely on shore. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory.”

  • Angela Seliga on 08.07.2013 at 10:15 am

    This program never ceases to amaze me. The students, teachers and staff are some of the hardest working people I have ever met, but are also the most interesting and fun group of people to spend time with. I’m proud to have been a small part of it over the years and look forward to the future.

  • Ruthie on 08.07.2013 at 10:27 am

    Upward Bound truly prepares students to be excellent college students and life-long learners. The undergraduates I’ve worked with who participated in Upward Bound are among our best students. Many Upward Bound alumni have told me that they would not have gone to college without this program. Keep up the good work!

  • Terry on 08.07.2013 at 1:22 pm

    I have had the pleasure of presenting workshops on career-related issues for Upward Bound students at BU for many years and have been consistently impressed with the dedication, energy, and eagerness to engage of both the staff and students. Best wishes to the graduates for continued success as you work towards your goals and beyond! You will serve as an inspiration to those who follow…

  • Erica Zilleruelo on 08.07.2013 at 5:21 pm

    I’m proud to be a part of this program, mainly because the students–each and every one of them–inspire me to be a better teacher every year. No matter how many challenging lessons I plan, they meet those challenges with excitement. I’m honored to spend my summers with such amazing people.

  • Juah Seyonia Washington on 08.07.2013 at 8:07 pm

    The Upward Bound program opens the eyes of students to see the world. At the onset, three summers with a rigorous course load at a prestigious college can be something overwhelming for a high school student not used to the challenging opportunity. The trepidation turns to vapor once you meet fellow students brave enough to seize the feat, teachers tirelessly working to see you succeed, tutors that devote time and energy, and administrators dedicated to offering the joys and treasures of education as a means to become agents of change. As an alum and former tutor, I’ve been able to use the instruction and insight received to witness the growth and accomplishment of the aforementioned students and more. The program tells you what you can do and become. Despite background, status, community, fear, worry, or any other hindrance that so easily besets one from believing that he or she can achieve more than what meets the eye, Upward Bound looks that opposition in the face and allows the ones who have experienced it live out the triumphant truth.

    To many more rebels.

  • Mark Correia on 08.08.2013 at 7:24 pm

    By simply holding class in nearby space, the Upward Bound students and staff provide constant inspiration. They have to work hard, which is why I they’re a resource for new ideas and innovative solutions.
    But as they strive to do more, they still effortlessly share warm smiles that remind me to again imagine what’s possible. Congratulations!

  • Bennett Goldberg on 08.09.2013 at 4:23 pm

    The thing that MOST amazes me is the outcomes of so many of the students over so long a time. I find the comparisons in college graduation rates incredibly compelling. UB graduates are nearly twice as likely to finish college! Mike Dennehy and the UB/UBMS staff provided this data:

    UB data
    · For high school class from 2000-2012, UB has a postsecondary persistence rate (including postsecondary completion) of 60% for program participants and 73% for program graduates. While no longitudinal data exists for a BPS comparison cohort for this entire period, a recent study by the Boston Private Industry Council looked at the college completion rates for two BPS cohorts, the Classes of 2000 and 2003. The student found that the 9-year college completion rate for the Class of 2000 was 42% and the 6-year completion rate for the Class of 2003 was 41%.

    · For high school classes from 2000-2008 (cohorts eligible to have graduated from college), UB has a postsecondary persistence rate (including postsecondary completion) of 58% for program participants and 72% for program graduates.

    · For high school classes from 2000-2012, 50% of all Upward Bound at Boston University participants met the U.S. Department of Education’s definition of academically at-risk (program entry GPA below 2.5 or scored below 240 (proficient) on either the ELA or Math section of middle school MCAS).

    UB MS data:
    · UB MS has four graduated cohorts who have enrolled in college, the Classes 2009-2012. The postsecondary enrollment rate for project participants is 79% and 97% for project graduates and a nearly identical persistence rate, 76% and 97% for project participants and graduates, respectively. 39% of these students met the Federal definition of being academically at-risk at the time of admission and 56% are English as a second language speakers.

  • Jeffrey Banks on 08.09.2013 at 10:16 pm

    I am so proud of Brankely, Lejla, William, Blanca, Mariama and all the students of BU UB/UBMS. I have been blessed to work for this program the past four summers. Watching these five students as well as many, many others mature into responsible students has been an awesome experience. I am so proud of what this program stands for and the integral part it has played and continues to play in so many students’ lives. This program has also changed my life as an educator and allows me to grow and develop my vocation. I am a better teacher because of BU UB/UBMS. Thank you for allowing me to be part of this experience.

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