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UTPA's Upward Bound Program celebrates 40 years with grant renewal
Posted: 06/05/2012
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For its 40th birthday, The University of Texas-Pan American's Upward Bound (UB) Program received a gift that will keep on giving.

Students from UTPA's Upward Bound (UB) Program plant a tree during a Keep McAllen Beautiful community service project in October 2011. Students in the UB Program -- which celebrates its 40th anniversary at UTPA this year -- participate in various community service projects as members of the program. Pictured from left to right are UB students Karla Garcia, Juan Sandoval and Zujeith Murillo.

The U.S. Department of Education is awarding UB more than $3 million over five years to continue preparing first-generation and at risk high school students for higher education. UTPA's program, which serves 148 students, received the largest single UB grant in the state, said Felipe Salinas, grant writer for the University's Division of Student Affairs who wrote the grant for the UB funding renewal.

Petra Lopez-Vaquera, the UB Program director, said she is grateful for having the grant renewed because it enables the UB staff to continue helping more students enter college successfully.

"These students mostly have parents who didn't graduate with a degree, so they need help navigating through scholarships and financial aid applications and other aspects of preparing for college," Lopez-Vaquera said. "It is a huge honor for me to be involved in this program that has been sustained for 40 years because I too come from a first-generation, low-income family and can relate to the students we serve in our program."

UTPA's UB Program plans to celebrate its anniversary June 29 during the annual Operation Care Drop, a national program - in which UB has participated previously - that collects toiletries and other items to send to troops deployed overseas.

The University began the UB Program in 1972 to provide support to high school students from low-income families or who would be the first in their families to earn a college degree. The UB Program helps students develop their skills and motivates them to complete high school, enter and thrive in an institution of higher learning. The program currently serves students from Mission, Edcouch-Elsa and Edinburg Economedes High Schools.

"One of the best aspects of UB is that we are like a family and all of our participating students feel like they are a part of something," she said. "Our doors are always open to them and we are here for them, every step of the way and will help them with questions they may have in regards to higher education."

Jennifer Soto, now a counseling specialist for UB, knows firsthand the benefits of the program. Soto, who participated in UB as a high school student, said she believes the program provided her with the structure and discipline that led her to graduate from UTPA in 2005 and thrive as a professional in her field.

"I was once one of these students and I come from a single-parent home and humble beginnings," Soto said. "A lot of these students' parents provide the bare-minimum, so I feel that UB is a huge, positive resource for these students because I have seen the opportunities and services this program provides for many, as it did for me."

UB's services include:

• instruction in core subjects necessary for success in education beyond high school;

• academic, financial or personal counseling;

• exposure to academic programs and cultural events;

• tutorial services and mentoring programs;

• information on postsecondary education;

• assistance in completing college entrance and financial aid applications; and

• career information.

For more information, call (956) 665-2596.