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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion|

Project Upward bound

icon of a calendarMay 17, 2021

icon of a pencilBy Kristina Lindberg

The Big Picture

OU programs use holistic approach to advance academic accomplishments in the community

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Robert Hall

When it comes to fostering PK-16 student success, the OU-Pontiac Initiative and Project Upward Bound take a holistic approach.

“We are looking at the entire student, not just in academics,” says Teresa Rodges, senior director for community service and pre-college programs. “We are looking at the whole picture.” For Rodges, the whole picture means not only awarding scholarships to Pontiac school students for future college careers, it also means making sure students have the necessary tools for their education, are able to pass their SATs, getting their parents involved and understanding students’ circumstances.

PK-16 education is one of the focus areas of the OU-Pontiac Initiative, which centers on advancing the vitality of the city while enhancing learning opportunities for OU.

“That’s my passion: making sure that students have an opportunity to go to college and to eliminate a lot of the barriers,” says Rodges. “You can offer scholarships all day long but if students are not ready to take advantage of them, you need to do something about it.”

Tutoring and mentoring play a big role in getting the middle and high school students prepared for graduation. To support the tutoring program, OU students serve as tutors and mentors — in the classroom before the pandemic, and now virtually.

During tutoring sessions, OU mentors work closely with Pontiac students, unveiling that standard lesson plans are not working for every student in the classroom. Now, they focus on meeting the students where they are academically. But the tutoring program does not only help Pontiac students, Rodges says. It also benefits OU students who gain experience in the classroom and establish relationships with their mentees. Through the continued close collaboration with Pontiac schools, the initiative is also able to better identify students who qualify for scholarships. Last year, 43 Wade McCree scholarships were given out and 25 of the recipients came from Pontiac schools.

The college preparatory academy Project Upward Bound (PUB), impacts the broader community but also focuses on students in the Pontiac area. Since its implementation 55 years ago, PUB has aided low-income, first generation high school students to achieve success through enhancing academic skills (including classes and tutoring), awarding scholarships, broadening social and cultural exposures, and providing career exploration.

“We serve a community where about 80 percent of students graduate from high school, whereas 100 percent of PUB scholars graduate from high school, regardless of the length of time they were in PUB,” says Geri Graham, director of Project Upward Bound.

To create a successful student path to high school graduation, college and a career, the project focuses on education enhancement along with cultural activities, such as travel, that are designed to motivate scholars. “In addition, our Ambassador’s Council provides advanced leadership development training to select scholars who have demonstrated the potential to become leaders in college and in their chosen career fields,” says Graham.

PUB scholars are trained to seek out the resources they need and, therefore, are more college-ready once they graduate from high school. “For example, a lot of students are afraid or embarrassed to seek out tutoring, but we help PUB scholars understand that there is no shame in it and tell them how to do it,” Graham says.

“In PUB, we use a holistic approach that includes family,” Graham continues. “We work closely with parents to get them involved in the process, providing activities such as mini college orientations, FAFSA workshops, and financial literacy facilitated by such institutions as the OU Credit Union. For parents, it takes away the mystery of higher education and empowers them to better support their first-time college students,” she says.

Learn more about OU’s impact in Pontiac.

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