Upward Bound's Rebound

The program, which helps high school students excel and prepare for college, graduates latest class and receives new funding. 

New Upward Bound graduates, (l-r) Imari Lamar, Catherine Yant and Gary Menifield.  Menifield is coming to USF in the fall.


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (May 29, 2012) – It might not be as large as USF’s other graduations, but this graduation ceremony in the Marshall Student Center Ballroom meant the world to an important part of the University of South Florida family.

Upward Bound’s 40 graduating seniors and their parents beamed with pride at the recent celebration, knowing college is the next step.  The program made college possible but there was a strong chance this would be the last time at USF, or so Upward Bound Director Sharman McRae feared. 

“This year was a real nail-biter,” she said. 

With funding being cut across the nation, McRae couldn’t be sure USF’s Upward Bound program would still be around in the foreseeable future. 

The funding came through though, at $3.5 million over the next five years. Eight other programs were not quite as fortunate as the 27 that were in place during the last four years were reduced to 19.

“USF’s Upward Bound program is the largest in Florida and I can honestly say, one of the most successful,” said McRae. “We were quite relieved even though we will have to do more while the funding level remained the same.”

USF’s Upward Bound committed to adding 115 more students to the 50 remaining students in the program and is adding other features.

“A critical new part of the grant requires us to make greater demands on the students,” McRae said. “They have to come with skills and show an ability to be competitive.”

The next cohort of Upward Bound student will need a higher grade point average, 2.8 instead of 2.5 and a higher level of writing ability than in the past. They will also have to have a better idea about what they want to major in so that they can select relevant courses sooner.

“We are partnering with various departments, schools and colleges throughout the university, having students work with professors on research projects as well as meeting professionals in the fields they’re interested in,” said McRae. 

The program is required to draw 60 percent of its students from Middleton High School. The rest come from Tampa Bay Technical, King, Leto and Jefferson high schools.  Though considered “low performing” according to the data accumulated on incoming students, McRae says, “Schools like Middleton aren’t given enough credit for the work they do to improve the students who come in with low scores and yet leave doing so much better than some people think possible.”

 Upward Bound’s graduation ceremony was so meaningful in large part because of parental involvement.

“Our funding requires us to have strong involvement from the parents,” said McRae. “And this year we had one of the highest levels of participation ever.”

In a unique approach, parents and family members raise money that is specially set aside for their own children. 

“The more they raise, the more money is set aside to help with college,” said McRae.

Families held car washes, sold raffle tickets and worked at Tampa Bay Buccaneer and USF football games.  They can also volunteer and earn points that are applied to their students’ accounts.

“Knowing the family, especially the parents are invested in their success makes a huge difference,” McRae said. “You see the difference in how well the students are doing throughout the program.  Even if parents are working or ill, other family members can help out.”

Among the many thanks received, McRae was particularly touched by a letter that arrived the day after graduation.

Carmen Torres, mother of Luis Arcelay wrote about crying “tears of contentment” as she walked beside her son.  “I was proud of him and it was a unique memory of him and me,” she wrote.  “’Thanks’ is such a small word to say in appreciation to you for the magnificent legacy of good memories and incentives you are giving to all Upward Bound Program students.”

She went on to say that while waiting for a ride from the Marshall Center, her son told her, “’Mom I love this program,” and that he will give back to it as soon as he can. She added, “He walked beside me telling me about his greatest memories in the program.  I never knew my son had the ability to express his feelings so well.”

He will get the chance to give back.  McRae stays in contact with Upward Bound alumni requesting their help in a variety of ways. In fact, the two hosts for the graduation were Upward Bound alumni Frank J. Crum, a veteran television producer who works for City of Tampa Cable Communication (CTTV) and Shenita Brokenburr, vice chancellor for human resources at the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.

“They enthusiastically volunteered to take on the roles of emcees,” McRae said. “We’re proud of them. They found meeting the students inspiring and we know it does the students a lot of good to see how accomplished they can become by seeing people like Frank Crum and Dr. Brokenburr.”

Two students from this year’s graduating class are coming to USF, Gary Menifield and Stefania Ardila. Menifield is an 18-year-old graduate of Tampa Bay Technical High School and hopes to become a pediatrician.

“Upward Bound opened up a lot of opportunities for me,” he said. “We were always learning what to expect for the coming school year and that gave us a head start.  And the program exposed me to what goes into leadership.”  The program did such a great job that Menifield served as class president this year.

Ardila, also 18, graduated from T. R. Robinson High School. The International Baccalaureate student is “leaning towards international studies,” but is undecided on a major so far.  Her advice for those who come after her in Upward Bound is to “have an open mind,” she said.  “You don’t know who you’ll meet.  You’ll have fun and the counselors are really great people who will always help you in every way they can.”   

Menifield and Ardila will be attending USF’s Freshman Summer Institute, a special program for promising students from first generation and/or limited income families. They will be following in the footsteps of Danielle Hall, an Upward Bound graduate now entering her senior year at USF. She credits the program with showing her how to apply to college and about the myriad details about school that students need to be aware of, but most of all “how to study and how to manage my time,” she said. The sociology major made friends in the program she is still connected to today. Learning how to stay focused on success has translated into using USF’s tutoring services and writing center as needed and becoming a high achieving student.

McRae says with justifiable pride, “Upward Bound puts them on the path to success and I know with those who are coming here, they can continue to count on us as well as the many programs and services USF has that will make their next graduation pretty much a slam dunk.”

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