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Upward Bound prepares students to climb the ladder of success

June 25, 2018

By Hilda Muñoz | Cal State LA News Service

Fifteen-year-old Arianna Moreno, a high school student at Marshall Fundamental Secondary School in Pasadena, is excited to spend two weeks living on campus at Cal State LA. She’s taking classes that will prepare her for junior year, picking up good study habits from roommates and learning about colleges from her residential advisors.

Arianna is also excited for her future. She hopes to become a professional in the medical field.

“I really want to go to college and have a successful career. I would be the first in my family,” said Arianna, who is among 52 students staying at Cal State LA this summer as part of Upward Bound’s residential program.

As an Upward Bound student, Arianna’s chances of graduating from college are promising. The federally funded college prep program at Cal State LA has helped first-generation students from historically underserved communities earn a college degree, and elevate their families and communities.

More than 300 students participate in the Upward Bound or Upward Bound Math/Science programs at Cal State LA every year. About 72 percent of Cal State LA Upward Bound graduates since 2008 have completed college, according to the program’s annual data.

Nineteen students from the Upward Bound Class of 2018 will attend Cal State LA in the fall. Others plan to attend Cal State Northridge, Cal Poly Pomona, University of California, Riverside, UC Santa Barbara, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Brown University and Stanford University, among others.

“Upward Bound, much like Cal State LA, is helping to transform lives and the lives of future generations through higher education. We are proud to work with them every year in guiding students along their academic journeys,” said Nancy Wada-McKee, vice president for Student Life, the division that oversees Upward Bound.

Students commit to four years of study halls after school and Saturday morning classes during the school year. In the summer, they take intensive six-week courses at Cal State LA. Some of them also participate in the two-week residential program.

Diego Lopez, a junior at Woodrow Wilson High School, is staying on campus this year for the first time. Students leave their dorm rooms in the morning, climb the long set of stairs up “Cardiac Hill” to get to class at King Hall, or the Biological Sciences building and return in the afternoon for sports, team-building activities or presentations.

Diego, who is taking pre-calculus, English literature and U.S. history, said he enjoys experiencing college life.Upward Bound students

“It’s been really cool. I wake up, have an early breakfast, go to class and then tutoring. I have a lot of time for homework,” the 16-year-old said. “After class you have a balance of outside activities.”  

The summer courses prepare students for classes they will be taking in the fall. Students entering their senior year of high school take a seminar focused on the college application process.

“We work on personal statements. They will start filling out the different applications that are available during the summer, like Cal State Apply and the UC application. Come fall, they’re ahead of the game compared to their peers at their schools,” said Upward Bound Director Yara Jimenez, who also resides on campus during the residential program.

She attributes the program’s success partly to a devoted staff, a majority of whom are also first-generation college students who were raised in historically underserved communities. A team of academic advisors contacts students and their families regularly throughout the year, ensuring they take the required high school classes and prepare for the college admission process.

Jaime Rodriguez, 35, an academic advisor, said part of the job is to provide academic guidance, mentorship, and college and career advising. Many students want to become doctors, he said, but they don’t know what it takes to achieve their goals.

Rodriguez also teaches them how to survive college. He talks to his students about saving money, the first-year experience, and living in dorms versus off-campus apartments. He stresses the value of skills such as cooking and doing laundry in preparation for college dorm life.

Rodriguez interacts with his students three to five times a week during the school year and more than 20 times a week during the summer. The summer program helps him get to know his students—and their parents—better.

“A lot of the parents haven’t dealt with [college issues] before because this is the first child in the family to go to college,” he said. “I assess the situation, talk to the parents and ask, ‘What are your fears?’”

Some of Rodriguez’s students have attended UC and CSU campuses, as well as Ivy League universities.

Diego hopes to study engineering in the future and is interested in attending Cal State LA. He heard of Upward Bound from his older brother, a graduate of the program who went on to study civil engineering at Cal State LA.

“I have a lot of free time and wanted to occupy my time by focusing on my studies,” Diego said. “If I wasn’t here, I would be playing outside, leaving my studies until the last minute. But this program gives you those good habits for staying on task.”

Photos: Above, Mariana Porras, a residential tutor advisor and an Upward Bound alumna, talks to Upward Bound students about her college experience. She graduated from Mount St. Mary’s University this spring and is attending graduate school at Columbia University in the fall. Bottom, Gabriel Guerra, an 11th grade student at Marshall Fundamental Secondary School in Pasadena, listen to Upward Bound residential tutor advisors share their college experiences. (Credit: Anibal Ortiz/Cal State LA)

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California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 28,000 students and has more than 245,000 distinguished alumni.

Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit