large group of high school students in TRIO Upward Bound t-shirts standing in two rows outside against a background of trees

Back on campus: TRIO Upward Bound wraps summer program, sees scholarship success

After a year of connecting virtually, Grand Valley TRIO Upward Bound staff members were excited to welcome students from Grand Rapids Public Schools on campus for five weeks of summer programming.

Josh Brandsen, director of TRIO Upward Bound, said 44 students attended the summer program, offered by Grand Valley for the 43rd consecutive year. The 10th-12th graders from either Innovation Central or Union high schools participated in a hybrid mix of in-person and virtual activities.

To be eligible for Upward Bound, students must meet federal income guidelines and be the first in their families to attend college. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Brandsen said he and other staff members would drop off food and school supplies to students' homes. 

"It's really nice to see the students in person," he said. "And they were really excited to get to campus."

In addition to attending meetings and events throughout the year, Grand Valley's Upward Bound students are expected to complete community service projects. Bonnie Peterson, office coordinator, said the pandemic hampered some traditional group volunteer outings but students were still able to complete projects for Kids' Food Basket, Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation and Mel Trotter Ministries.

TRIO Upward Bound Sings 'Family'

Above video: Students and staff members from the Grand Valley TRIO Upward Bound program sing 'Family,' from the 'Dreamgirls' soundtrack. Director Josh Brandsen said summer program participants have performed this song weekly for nearly 35 years because "the program is a family."

Brandsen said students have been successful at earning college scholarships from national foundations like Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and Dell Scholars. Part of that success, he said, can be attributed to the community service requirement and college readiness seminars students attend. 

"People from Grand Valley's Financial Aid and Admissions offices will talk with them about preparing for college. We go on college tours throughout the state and review their scholarship application essays," Brandsen said.

Nearly 100 percent of Upward Bound participants attend a four-year university. B. Donta Truss, vice president for Enrollment Development and Educational Outreach, said pipeline programs like this help close the gap for students from diverse backgrounds.

"When we are able to reach students early, in middle or high school, and provide them with information and resources, they will be successful in enrolling and matriculating through college," Truss said. 

Upward Bound staff members and 20 students, all who are fully vaccinated, are ending the summer program with a trip to Boston, Massachusetts, visiting popular sites like the Black Heritage Trail and Harvard University.