Upward Bound = College Bound

USF’s Upward Bound program, the largest in Florida, boasts a 100 percent college acceptance rate this year.


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (May 21, 2013) – The Upward Bound program at the University of South Florida – the largest and best performing program in Florida – boasts a 100 percent high school graduation rate with all 30 seniors in the program admitted to college.


As a group they applied to more than 150 schools and were accepted to more than 75 schools, among them eight of the 12 state universities. One student has received a prestigious Bill Gates Foundation Millennium Scholarship.

Considering that high school graduation rates in Florida come in at 79 percent for White students, 73 percent for Latino students and 64 percent for African American students, Upward Bound’s approach clearly appears to be making a difference.

The high achieving class of 2013 – with two students earning 6.0 plus GPAs, two with 5.0 and six with 4.0 – attended the Upward Bound commencement ceremony last Saturday at the Marshall Student Center. In addition to their certificates they received iPad notebooks from the program’s parents’ association, purchased with funds they raised throughout the year. 

Not every one of Upward Bound’s graduating seniors can afford to go to college right away, though. Finances and family responsibilities will delay entry for the time being for some. Nonetheless, the percentage that is going to attend college in the fall is 95 percent. Still very good, in light of the fact that only one out of five African American and Latino males enroll in college.

Among those Upward Bound graduates going to college this fall, one stands out and fortunately he has earned a prestigious scholarship to fund all four years – and more – of his education. 

A Bill Gates Foundation Millennium Scholarship will cover both undergraduate and graduate school for Ayele Gibson who is graduating from Middleton High School with a 6.1 GPA. But that’s not all.  He was named valedictorian at both his high school and Upward Bound. He delivers his Middleton address in June. 

“This doesn’t happen every day,” said Sharman McRae, director of the TRiO Upward Bound Program, one of 826 in the nation. “We see our students excel quite often. We usually have a very high rate of college acceptance – typically 99 per cent, with at least one student entering the military, but this is the first time we’ve had  100 percent accepted. And to have a Bill Gates Scholar among them, that’s really something.” 

McRae says she sees all of her students as stars in their own right, “it’s just that sometimes you see someone who you know deserves the spotlight and Ayele is such a student.”

“What impressed me about Ayele is his determination and motivation knowing all along that he wanted to go to college. After his mother passed away last year, he handled himself with maturity and not missing a Saturday or any of the six weeks in the summer program. I would ask him how he was doing, checking up to make sure he was alright, and would always say fine, and that he felt better being with his friends in the program,” she said. 

McRae believes Gibson’s future is bright.

“Ayele has expressed an interest in being an engineer. Ten years from now, we will see something extraordinary created and/or built by him. He will go a long way in life because of his determination.”

Gibson was born and raised in Tampa and is the youngest of six children. The path to becoming an engineer began with a mentor at the YMCA who showed him how to build his first computer when he was nine years old. Math was his favorite subject throughout high school and Upward Bound was there for him the whole time. 

“My favorite things about Upward Bound were staying on campus and experiencing a college schedule first hand,” he said.  “Also I liked the resources such as the college field trips and academic support.”

He also appreciated that Upward Bound made it possible for him not to have to pay the fees for taking the SAT and ACT exams which would have put a strain on his family.

Although headed to Florida State University, Gibson looks at his experience with USF fondly. His decision was influenced by an important consideration.

“My father lives in Tallahassee, so I will be able to spend more time with him,” Gibson said.

At least one attendee on Saturday may serve as inspiration. Timothy Keeley, an award-winning Upward Bound graduate from Georgia, Keeley now heads his own engineering consulting company in Tampa and is a partner and supporter of Upward Bound at USF.

“He had lots of offers when he graduated from college, worked for Hewlett Packard and Ericson Wireless, and today he travels all over the world to places like India and China to develop partnerships with foreign software companies,” said McRae. “I hope to be able to say the same wonderful things about Ayele in the not–too-distant future.”

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