Students in UTPA's Upward Bound summer programs show their support for troops
Posted: 07/11/2011
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Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math and Science students participating in summer programs at The University of Texas-Pan American recently learned more than what it takes to graduate from high school and enter post secondary education. They learned the importance of serving others, particularly U.S. military service men and women.

Participants from UTPA's Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math and Science summer programs collected items for Operation Care Drop as part of their summer programs' community service project. Pictured delivering the items they collected to IBC are left to right Upward Bound Director Petra Lopez-Vaquera, Upward Bound students Jimmy Zapata and Crystal Cruz, IBC Branch Manager Dina Araguz, IBC Sales Representative Samuel Trejo, Upward Bound Math and Science Director Juan Carlos Garcia, and Upward Bound Math and Science students Natalisa Rodriguez and Gabriel Sanchez.

For their summer community service project, they donated items they collected for Operation Care Drop, a nationwide program which began on Memorial Day and ended July 4 to collect donated items to put in care packages for troops deployed overseas. On June 21, they delivered their five large boxes filled with prepackaged bags of snacks, travel-size toiletries, books and a long list of other supplies useful to troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq to International Bank of Commerce, which spearheaded a regional drive with H-E-B to support Operation Care Drop.

"Operation Care Drop was a very interesting and productive experience in which we were allowed to assist our community and troops," said 17-year-old Fidel Nacienceno, a rising senior at Edinburg North High School and an Upward Bound participant.

Nacienceno said he appreciated learning how the donations were being used by servicemen and women after hearing from Jaime Miranda, director of UTPA's College Assistance Migrant Program and a 20-year veteran, now retired, of the Army National Guard. Upward Bound staff arranged for Miranda, who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2005-2006, to talk to students about the significance of these care packages to troops.

"I shared with them pictures I took during my deployment and my role as a combat medic in using care packages to help increase morale and welfare of our service members and the local civilian population. I shared that many single service members in particular were always happy to receive a care package from a group of students," said Miranda, who brought his medic aid bag and military pack to demonstrate the small amount of space he had to carry personal items or medical supplies while deployed.

Miranda also showed them a well-worn T-shirt covered with written messages of good will that he received in a care package from some North Texas junior high school students while deployed.

"I would wear that shirt to sleep to remind me about life as a civilian. I still keep that T-shirt," he said.

Participation in Operation Care Drop inspired Upward Bound Math and Science student Natalisa Rodriguez, 17, a rising senior at Weslaco East High School.

"To see so many individuals in our community participate in helping our troops who defend our freedoms was inspiring and I was very glad to be part of it," she said.

Petra Lopez-Vaquera, Upward Bound Program director, said the two programs decided to join forces this year to conduct the community service component built into each program.

"We wanted to participate in this cause because we understand how our troops are fighting for our country and we wanted to show our appreciation," Lopez-Vaquera said. "Our students enjoyed giving back and helping out."

Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math and Science are both federal programs providing services to primarily low income and first generation students to better prepare them to succeed in high school and entrance into and success in post secondary education.

Upward Bound is funded to serve 140 ninth to 12th grade students from six Hidalgo County high schools. Students meet for 27 Saturdays from September to May and attend a six-week summer program which meets daily. Its participants receive academic instruction in a number of core subjects and services that include tutoring and mentoring; financial and academic counseling; career information; and assistance on completing college entrance and financial aid applications and college entrance exams, among others.

Similarly structured, Upward Bound Math and Science is funded to serve 50 students identified who show potential for success in a post-secondary institution in the areas of math, science, and engineering and provides special instruction in skills to strengthen their motivation to excel in those areas. Students in this program spend three weeks of their six-week summer session living on campus and are provided opportunities to participate in research with University professors.

Learn more about Operation Care Drop here. Go to UTPA's Department of College Access and Support Programs website to learn more about Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math and Science.