March 10, 2010

Offering students 'a little slice of college'


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Craig Smith of Sanford evaluates results from a physics problem that some of his classmates conducted at Upward Bound.

Doug Jones/Staff Photographer

Sebastian Kuczek of Porter and Hani Ali of Portland look at another team’s process for solving a physics problem during one of their Upward Bound courses Wednesday at the University of Southern Maine.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Staff Writer

GORHAM — Marcus Leo has wanted to be a doctor for as long as he can remember.

He has a better idea of how to get there now, thanks to the Upward Bound Program at the University of Southern Maine.

For Leo, who will be a senior at Bonny Eagle High School in the fall, the program includes an internship this summer at Mercy Hospital in Portland. As he moves medical equipment and delivers patients to appointments, he sees doctors in action.

''I want to be in their shoes,'' said Leo. ''This program is great preparation.''

Leo is among more than 60 high school juniors and seniors from across southern Maine who are participating this summer in the program's six-week campus experience.

It offers a taste of college life to kids who would be among the first in their families to pursue four-year degrees. It includes students from Biddeford, Massabesic, Portland, Sacopee Valley and Sanford high schools.

They stay in a dorm, take college courses and work as interns in fields of their choosing.

They also learn how to fill out college applications, write personal essays, seek financial aid, handle personal money matters and live more independently.

''Our goal is to increase the likelihood that they graduate from high school and continue on to college,'' said Laurie Davis, executive director of Upward Bound at USM. ''I think of it as packing their backpacks with the skills they will need to get through college.''

Started in 1965 as part of President Johnson's War on Poverty, Upward Bound is a federally funded program that targets income-eligible students whose parents don't have bachelor's degrees.

Nationally, about 75 percent of Upward Bound participants enroll in college after completing high school, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Other University of Maine System campuses and Bowdoin College have offered Upward Bound programs.

Under a four-year grant, Upward Bound at USM has a yearly budget of $538,000. That includes six full-time staff members who work year-round recruiting and mentoring students in participating high schools.

It also covers the stipends that students receive for their internships and for maintaining good grades and attendance records throughout the school year. Juniors receive $558 per year and seniors receive $779 per year.

On Wednesday, USM President Selma Botman spoke to the Upward Bound students about the benefits of getting a college education. The daughter of an immigrant factory worker, Botman studied at Oxford University in England and established herself as a Middle East expert before becoming a college administrator.

''I was fortunate to have two parents who encouraged me to get an education,'' Botman said. ''I hope you imagine yourself as college students. Getting a college education is the best investment you can make in your entire life. I've never met a single person who said they regret getting a college education.''

Tyler Traves, who will be a senior at Sanford High School, is spending his internship doing clerical work in Botman's office.

Traves plans to study education and psychology in college. He said Upward Bound has been a good experience.

''It's a little slice of college,'' said Traves. ''Without it, I think I would have been nervous (going to college) because I didn't know what to expect.''

Several participants this summer are children of immigrants, including Theo Phadungthin, who will be a junior at Portland High School. He wants to study solar engineering in college, but he also wants to be a farmer and run a restaurant, like his father.

''I plan to do a lot of things,'' Phadungthin said. ''With this program, I've got a better understanding of what college is about. It's nothing like high school. It's a whole different experience.''

For some students, this is the second summer campus experience. They include Ashley Cox, who will be a senior at Bonny Eagle High School and plans to study environmental science in college.

For her Upward Bound internship, she's working as a research assistant for a USM entomology professor, examining insects under a microscope and pinning them to foam displays.

''Upward Bound helped me to focus on the future and realize how I can make it happen,'' Cox said. ''I want to better myself and do something that my parents never did.''

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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