USF's Upward Bound Program Showcases Success

The program began in 1965 and has helped more than 2,000 students graduate high school and enroll in college.

By Barbara Melendez

     USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 5, 2010) – College was nowhere on Clinton Paris’ radar in 1982, a year that is already ancient history to Dazaun Soleyn. Soleyn has wanted to go to college as far back as he can remember.


The two are African-American and members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and exemplify what it means for young men to have a life-changing experience through the University of South Florida’s Upward Bound program. One represents Upward Bound’s past, the other its present and they both provide the rationale for its future.

The two men are very different individuals, part of two very different generations. But Upward Bound expanded their possibilities using the same techniques that make the difference between living up to one’s potential and going nowhere. With a success rate upwards of 90 percent each of its past 45 years – 96 percent last year – Upward Bound lives up to its name and mission.


USF’s Upward Bound program began in 1965 and has helped over 2,000 students – male and female – graduate high school and enroll in college. Children of all nationalities are drawn from 10 Hillsborough County high schools and are provided assistance in English and Spanish.Upward Bound is a federally-funded U.S. Department of Education TRIO program for low-income, first-generation students nationwide.


Born in Sandersville, Ga., Paris grew up in West Tampa in a home where college was not part of family conversations. It was his mother’s idea to get him enrolled. Once there, he discovered a world of possibilities and people engaged in something that didn’t resemble anything else in his life.


“I was shocked at how serious and focused the students were on academics and their futures,” Paris said.“I found a completely different environment from what I experienced on a daily basis on the streets of West Tampa or in my home. At Upward Bound everybody and everything was focused on getting ready for college and success in life. I’m competitive by nature and I wanted to demonstrate that I too belonged in the program and could succeed in life.”


And succeed he did.He went from just getting by to excelling – from getting grades in the low C’s to high A’s. The seventh of nine children in a family with no college experience, Paris needed the academic structure, guidance, encouragement and other benefits Upward Bound had to offer.


“What impressed me the most was the personal attention the counselors gave each of us. The counselors really got to know each student and based on the students’ individual abilities they helped us select a college that gave us the best chance to succeed. Moreover, Upward Bound paid for the PSAT, SAT, and ACT tests, and three college applications – all things my family could not afford,” he said.


But Upward Bound taught Paris more than how to achieve academically and fill out college applications.


“Dr. Richard Pride, the program director and patriarch, believed that success required more than academic excellence.He insisted that every student learn discipline, personal responsibility, decorum, and even public speaking,” he said.“Students were constantly put in situations that required them to communicate what their future plans were and how they planned to achieve their goals.”


That meant having to think about and make plans for the future, which led him to stay at USF and major in finance.But it was the television series Perry Mason that inspired his choice of a career.Paris said the TV lawyer’s convertible car with a telephone and always saving the day by arguing successfully on behalf of his clients inspired him.Paris won his first case by arguing on behalf of a teammate in grade school who had gotten in trouble with the football coach.He won that one and his fate was sealed.Success in Upward Bound and at USF propelled him to Stetson University College of Law where he earned juris doctor and masters of business administration degrees.


Paris now has a thriving law practice in Riverview, Fla., specializing in business and commercial litigation, personal injury and real estate law.He continues to maintain a strong relationship with Upward Bound by serving on the advisory board.He is also part of the alumni association and returns to help inspire students like Soleyn.

Just like Paris, Soleyn has had the opportunity to attend Saturday classes during the school year and live on campus during the summer program where students attend classes, go on college tours and receive a healthy dose of discipline.During Paris’ time, he says that meant “a low tolerance for breaking their rules. They were very strict.”


Things haven’t changed, but then discipline is not an issue since Soleyn chose to get involved in Upward Bound.Born in Brooklyn, his mother moved to Tampa where she felt the schools would provide a better education. He learned about the program from representatives who visited Durant Senior High School in Plant City when he was a sophomore. He was ready from the start.


“I wasn’t nervous my first day of classes because I had a lot of my friends from high school that started the same time as me,” he said. “So it felt like a regular day of school except it was on a Saturday.”


Soleyn is majoring in business management in the College of Business and dance studies in the College of The Arts and he just completed the Kappa Alpha Psi Undergraduate Leadership Institute in Cincinnati this summer, one of 50 chosen from applicants around the United States.He had access to fraternity members who shared their knowledge and experience, as he does on campus with another fraternity brother, USF Ombudsman Samuel L. Wright.


“‘Upward Bound for success’ is the oath he took when he was admitted to the program and he is truly an ‘upward bounder’ to the core,” Wright said.“He loves the program and had the utmost respect for its leaders who gave much to him. And he is living out the true meaning of our fraternity, a belief in achievement in every field of human endeavor.”

Upward Bound gets students to see past being admitted to college, all the way to and beyond graduation.In Soleyn’s case, he hopes to dance with a company for a few years and then open a community center followed by founding a performing arts school in the Tampa Bay area.That’s the kind of vision Upward Bound fosters, and Soleyn isn’t waiting for graduation.

“I am in the process of opening an organization with a close friend, which is focused on building individuality through creativity and art, one life at a time,” Soleyn said.“Upward Bound has taught me how to try new things, that others haven’t attempted before, without fear.And I’ve learned how to lead by example.”

That quality of influence has held consistently throughout Upward Bound’s history.Mack Davis, III, director of all the First Generation Access and Pre-collegiate Programs and USF Upward Bound Program Director Sharman McRae both beam with pride when talking about Upward Bound students, young people they both care deeply about.


Davis believes the success of Upward Bound students is nothing short of “phenomenal.”He says, “Upward Bound introduces students to a new way of thinking about themselves and their future. Because of the support provided to them by dedicated adults and the challenging environment they experience each summer, these students are destined for success. Throughout their involvement with Upward Bound, we constantly reinforce the message, ‘with hard work and doing what is expected of you, you will succeed.’”


The connection is a lasting one.


“We find the students are very appreciative of what is given to them,” McRae said.“So many of them come back after they’ve left us and say, ‘I’m using everything you taught me,’ or ‘I’m so happy you took me to Washington, D.C., or this place and that place, because I wouldn’t have gone otherwise.’It’s really rewarding to see them walk back through that door after they’ve started college and are on their way to building their careers.We even have students come back and offer to volunteer here in the office – running errands and offering advice.”


Paris hopes Dazaun will someday reach the point where he joins the many Upward Bound graduates who attend alumni gatherings and may someday follow Paris’ lead in being a mentor and voice of inspiration.


“They were preparing us to become professionals,” Paris said.“Upward Bound opened my door to college and all the wonderful opportunities this country offers. If it had not been for Upward Bound, I would not have gone to college, and become a lawyer. My academic and professional successes are a direct result of the program.”

High school students can apply online at


For more information about the USF Upward Bound program, available in English and Spanish, visit, or call 813-974-9138.


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.