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Upward Bound (and Batman) Celebrate 50 Years of Guiding Young Minds at WVU Tech

School starts soon, and that start will bring with it a flurry of activity. But that doesn’t mean campus was a quiet place over the summer break. From summer camps to high schools visits, WVU Tech’s campus was alive with activity while students were away.

WVU Tech’s Upward Bound program is a major driver of that activity, and has been bringing high school students to campus for five decades running.

The summer program brings anywhere from 30-70 high school students to Montgomery for an academic and cultural boost meant to keep them mentally focused throughout the school year. Students participate in classes, read assigned books, perform a theatre production, put on a talent show and work on class projects. They also attend career development workshops and hear from speakers on everything from resume and interviewing skills to making first impressions and social media etiquette.

“We want them fully engaged,” said Jennifer Bunner, Director of Upward Bound at WVU Tech. “We want them reading and learning and keeping their brains busy so when they go back to school, they’re sharp and ready to go. If they do their best in high school and prepare for college, they’re much more likely to do well. Their grades will be better, their test scores will be better, and that translates to scholarships and financial aid that will help these students focus on their education instead of how to finance it.”

The six-week program is broken up into five weeks on campus and one week on an out-of-state excursion. WVU Tech students serve as tutor-mentors for the program. They live on campus with the students and work with them on their activities.

“One great draw of the program is that it gives these students a chance to explore what college life is like. Since they’re away from home, even on the weekends, they also get a chance to see what it means to be on their own and how they can explore and become involved in a community in their own way,” said Bunner.

During this year’s summer session, Upward Bound participants spent their out-of-state week in Washington, D.C., where they toured the city’s museums, monuments and iconic buildings. During their stay, students toured Capitol Hill and met with U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito.

Bunner said that these trips are a fun way to engage students off campus, but that they also serve to get students out into the world beyond the one they know.

“We want to take them places and expose them to things. New people, new things, new food,” she said. “Even public transportation is a new concept for many students. These trips can help to ease some of the culture shock that sometimes accompanies going off to college for the first time.”

Upward Bound follows a theme each year, and this summer’s program focused on super heroes. Student activities revolved around the theme, and Batman even made an appearance to talk to students about overcoming life’s obstacles.

“He encouraged students to find the hero within themselves and a lot of students were moved by what he had to share,” said Bunner.

The program is designed for students who are low-income or first-generation, meaning their parents did not attend college. WVU Tech’s Upward Bound program serves high school students in Fayette County and from Clay County High School and Kanawha County’s Riverside High School.

Students are recruited when they’re in ninth grade and the goal is to keep them until they graduate high school, offering programming that meets their needs based on where they are in school. Freshmen students get acclimated to the program while sophomores focus on researching career goals and areas of study. For third-year high school students, it’s all about scholarships and fine-tuning goals. Seniors learn how to complete their FAFSA and apply to college.

Bunner, who has been with the program at WVU Tech for seven years, said that Upward Bound is a great opportunity for area students, and that she can’t wait to see what the next 50 years hold in store.

“These students are sticking with the program and investing in themselves. You can see them grow and change and really get a lot out of it,” she said.

Check out WVU Tech Upward Bound on Facebook and Twitter for more information.