By Annalisa Purser, communications specialist, University Marketing and Communications
Violeta Hernandez remembers living in a house in Mexico that didn’t have running water after 5 p.m. and sleeping in a laundry room with her sister and parents while her three brothers slept in the living room. Because of her experiences, she said she’s learned to prioritize and value two things: her parents and education.
“Education is the one thing that can never be taken away from me,” she said to a room full of peers on Thursday, June 30, in the University of Utah Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building.
Hernandez is one of 85 Salt Lake high school students and recent graduates who moved into campus housing on Monday, June 27, for a six-week college experience that is part of the federally funded TRIO Summer Residential Upward Bound Academy. Upward Bound is designed to assist low-income and first-generation students in completing a secondary education and enrolling in college.
“I remember starting high school and having no idea what an honors or AP class was,” Hernandez said. “Although my parents have encouraged me and stressed the importance of keeping my grades up and attending college, they have been unable to assist me in making decisions about my education.”
Hernandez, who participated in the Upward Bound program since her freshman year at East High, is now one of 13 Bridge students, meaning she has completed the Upward Bound program and is now transitioning into her new role as a full-time college freshman at the U.
Upward Bound students take seven classes over the course of their six weeks on campus, which count for high school credit. The Bridge students take three U courses that count toward their undergraduate degree. Additionally, the students get to tour labs, attend lectures and experience campus life. On Thursday, June 30, the students took a break from classes to hear from U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah’s 2nd District, which includes Salt Lake and most of western and southern Utah. His district houses nearly half of the state’s 27 TRIO programs, representing more than 2,600 students from approximately 52 high schools.
“Since our program is federally funded, we like to make sure that our representatives on Capitol Hill know what we’re doing,” said Kyle Ethelbah director of the U’s TRIO programs and a product of Upward Bound. “We’re excited for him to get a sense of the program activities and for the students to meet with their representative.”
Stewart shared personal experiences with the students about his time in the Air Force and how he learned that if he worked harder than his peers, he could accomplish more even if he wasn’t the smartest or most experienced person.
“You are already off to a good start. You are already different than a lot of your friends your age. You are already in a position where you can succeed. You will have challenges in life. Things will not be handed to you, and things haven’t been handed to you already. You’re going to have to fight for things, but there is one way that you will win,” Stewart said. “If you will work harder than other people, you will succeed.”
The federally funded TRIO programs include eight types of programs designed to eliminate poverty through access to higher education and by providing academic tutoring, personal counseling, mentoring, financial guidance and other supports. As mandated by congress, two-thirds of the students serviced come from families with incomes at 150 percent or less of the federal poverty level and in which neither parent graduated from college.
The U typically hosts 95 Upward Bound students and has the capacity to serve 225 college students through its Student Support Services program, which helps current college students through the process of completing their degrees.
“Being accepting into Upward Bound early in my high school career helped me navigate this journey,” Hernandez said. “I began to believe in myself and believe that I could go to college. I wasn’t alone in my education anymore — I had found support.”