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© Allison Usavage

Upward Bound

Upward Bound, a program of the Public Service Center at Cornell, is prepping our community’s youth for college.

These photos are from a Saturday workshop, scheduled monthly with the Upward Bound students, at the Dia de Ciencias event at GIAC hosted by Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. Upward Bound students competed to engineer the best pasta bridge in small groups, mixed with students from the Junior chapter of National Society of Black Engineers, a collaboration between Cornell and Ithaca High School.

A Q&A with Jennifer Rudolph, Director of Upward Bound at Cornell.
© Allison Usavage

What is Upward Bound?

It’s a free college readiness program for 9th through 12th grade students that qualify as low-income or first-generation, meaning neither of their parents has a 4-year degree. We provide academic-based services throughout the year for them and then a 6-week summer program to help them get the skills and resources they need to be successful college students. Upward Bound is a federally-funded program through the US Department of Education under the umbrella of Trio Programs.


Who is it good for?

It definitely benefits our local area school districts. We’re in Groton, Newfield, Spencer-Van Etten, and Elmira high schools. The students that qualify are low-income and first-generation, so it’s really meant to work on that education achievement gap and service low-income students that may not have the opportunities that their peers do.


© Allison Usavage
What kind of change are you trying to make?

We’re trying to increase the rate at which low-income students go to college and find success in college. It’s not just getting them there, but making sure that when they get there they know how to seek the help they need, find the resources they need, find their niche, survive, and thrive.

How did it start?

Upward Bound at Cornell started through the Public Service Center. They were awarded the grant back in 2007, and then we reapplied for funds in 2012. We have plans to re-apply in 2017 and keep the good work going!


What impact does this have on our community?

In the Cornell community, it really benefits the college students. It gives them the opportunity to volunteer or have a work-study job with our program. A lot of the students enjoy giving back and mentoring students that may have come from a similar background or just mentoring younger students in general.

In the communities that we serve we’re definitely increasing the conversations about college. We work with the families and the students. So, even just through word of mouth, serving 15-16 students per district… they’re telling their friends and their friends are starting to come to us to ask questions about college. We’re sort of sparking that fire and spreading that excitement and information about college through those informal social networks as well.

Every summer our students plan a community service project, so they work with local organizations and they figure out who they want to volunteer with or what kind of project they want to take on and design it over the summer, and that’s been really fun too.


© Allison Usavage
How has the community supported the program?

The community definitely supports us through referrals and generally promoting our program. It’s good to just support that dialogue around college and the fact that we have an Upward Bound program… because it’s a national program we have some alumni that didn’t necessarily do it through Cornell, but find out that there’s a program here and they want to give back or they want to come and meet with our students and tell their story and encourage them and connect in unique ways.


What struggles have you encountered?

We work with teenagers!  Working with students from 9th through 12th grade… that’s a lot of years to go through changes. We’re trying to help them figure out who they want to be and what they want to be and where they want to go to college, if college is even right for them… there’s a lot of bumps in the road that come along with that.

Funding is always a challenge too…it’s a totally free program for the students, so anything that we do we pay for. 

What should we be celebrating?

We’re celebrating our students all the time. Their small accomplishments: getting good grades on tests. Their large accomplishments: getting good scholarships, getting into the colleges they want to go to. We try to celebrate as much as we can and make sure our students know that we’re proud of them and encouraging them to keep up that good motivation to go where they want to go.


How can we participate?

We’re always looking for interesting ways to partner with people doing interesting things. Every month we do a Saturday workshop for our students, so we take them on college visits, show them places around Ithaca, show them departments on campus, or have graduate students doing unique work with them. We’re always looking for interesting things to do on those Saturdays, so that’s a way people can partner.

From time to time we hire staff, that’s a great way to help out, to actually work with these students.


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