A Rewarding Summer

USF’s Upward Bound program trains a special group of high schoolers in college-level research methods and mental health first aid.


By Barbara Melendez

USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (July 31, 2013) – The University of South Florida’s 109 Upward Bound high school students look forward to learning a lot during their summers in the program just as they do after school throughout the year, but there’s even more in store. And some also have the opportunity to earn money as well.

A tidy sum of $1000 was awarded to each of 10 students last week. They had participated in the research component of the program resulting in their own High School Research Symposium. This group worked with the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Catherine Batsche, investigating “Perceptions of Substance Abuse Stigma among High School and College Students” and “Perceptions of Mental Illness Stigma among Young Adults.”

Upward Bound Program Director Sharman McRae observed, “This was serious research of very important subject matter approached in a professional manner and something quite new to high school students.”

Despite daily classes from 1 to 5 p.m. and reading background material, they returned in the evenings to conduct their focus groups and clearly took their work to heart. After six weeks of effort, when told they would have to present their findings before an audience, they were a little taken aback.

“They asked, ‘What are we going to say?’ and they were quite worried,” Batsche said, an accomplished researcher in her own right. Of their first attempt two days ahead of their presentations, “let’s say it was a little rough,” she said laughing.

But when they stood in front of their fellow students, as well as some parents and USF staff, they were poised and showed themselves to be very knowledgeable. They made Batsche proud. “I was very impressed with what they did,” she said, noting that she was most impressed with their dedication throughout. “While their peers were out having a good time, they were working so hard.”

All are now certified in mental health first aid.

“Following the tragedy in Sandy Hook, Congress is looking at funding first aid training in the schools to help identify children with problems and get them the help they need as early as possible,” Batsche said. The bill was introduced in January and is now in committee. This group of Upward Bound students is now fully trained and at the forefront of this new initiative. They have the added benefit of having received an introduction to college-level research, something Batsche hopes they will continue when they attend college.

Upward Bound at USF prepares its students for successful completion of high school, college entry and continued success through graduation and further higher learning. The students are typically low income and on their way to becoming first-generation college students. They begin their journey in the spring of their ninth grade academic year and remain for three years of continuous preparation. This program is one of the eight TRIO student services programs funded by the United States Department of Education. Also taking part in the Upward Bound summer program are students in the USF College Reach-Out Program (CROP), a state-funded program for low-income and first-generation students. These students begin their program in the eighth grade.

The up-and-coming researchers and their fellow Upward Bounders were also introduced to the various careers made possible by preparation in the Colleges of Engineering, Business and Nursing and USF Health.

“These young people are Florida’s next generation of scientists, engineers, lawyers, doctors, businessmen and women, architects, politicians, chiefs and entrepreneurs,” said McRae. “To see them in action is to be blown away by how much potential for greatness is there.”

Classes and time spent learning about careers from experts in their fields were only part of a full six weeks of activities. The students visited six colleges, participated in a “Summer Olympics” program with hundreds of students from around Florida, enjoyed a talent show and ended the summer with an awards program.

The Summer Olympics showcased the students’ scholastic and athletic abilities via math bowls, spelling bees, checker tournaments, track and field, soccer, basketball, cheerleading, stepping, creative writing and public speaking contests.

“We have 100 new students this year and they were motivated and eager for the college experience,” McRae said. “Between living on campus, learning in a college environment, seeing life on various campuses, competing with kids from around the state and learning how valuable a college education is in the most literal sense, I think we succeeded in delivering a powerful message. Successful lives are within their reach when they’re willing to do the work.”

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