Empowering Students to Succeed

Oct 14, 2020

Upward Bound Vision Quest has a long history of helping students break down barriers.

Access to higher education is not guaranteed for every student. From economic hurdles to cultural and language barriers, there are a number of challenges that prevent students from attaining a college degree. For more than half a century, Upward Bound Vision Quest has aimed to change that.

Upward Bound Vision Quest (UBVQ) is a federally funded TRIO program designed to help high school students transition into being first generation college students. The program has more than a 50-year legacy, which has been adapted over the years to best serve the needs of disadvantaged students. The program has been at UMD for the last 30 years. For the last 8 years, UBVQ has been housed in the Department of Social Work within the College of Education and Human Service Professions.

UBVQ began as a project that primarily served American Indian students in Minneapolis. The program now helps students in both Minneapolis and Duluth from a variety of backgrounds. UBVQ serves students from Denfeld High School here in Duluth as well as several Minneapolis schools.

“UBVQ prepares students for the beginning of college. It also provides experiences that students may not have had previously to help build up their confidence as they prepare themselves for college,” says program director Krystle Igbo-Ogbonna. “Many of our students don’t have parents who went to college, so this helps build a college-going culture.”

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program transitioned its summer session into a completely online format. In a normal summer, UBVQ students get a mini college experience. They stay in campus housing with a roommate, take classes, and do activities together. With the virtual summer format, students took virtual classes and built connections with other students through online group activities like virtual bingo and virtual campus tours.

As the pandemic continues, Igbo-Ogbonna is finding creative new methods to connect students with one another to prepare for the college experience. She explains, “Everything is online. We’re trying to integrate things as much as possible. We are doing all of our programming, such as workshops, virtual events, and tutoring, virtually this fall through Canvas and Zoom or Google Meet.”

The Program’s Impact

Aksom and Tsion Woldeyes

Former UBVQ students Aksom and Tsion Woldeyes are twins who were born in Ethiopia and moved to Minnesota as children. “When I first got into this program I was a ninth grader, I was new to the United States and to Wellstone International High School and I didn’t know how to speak English,” says Tsion. “This made it really difficult for me to communicate with students and teachers at school. It was really hard for me to do well in my classes but Upward Bound Vision Quest helped me to overcome the problems I faced.”  

The siblings both graduated from UMD in 2020 with degrees in public health. They agree that UBVQ played an integral role in their collegiate success. Their younger brother also participated in the program and is now a computer science student at Augsburg University.

Aksum notes how helpful her experience with UBVQ was in preparation for college, from helping her apply for colleges and scholarships to researching majors. “I loved being a part of Upward Bound Vision Quest! I learned what college life looks like and what I needed to accomplish in order to start and finish college successfully,” she says. “I succeeded at UMD because of the experience I got from UBVQ.”

Tsion adds, “Without Upward Bound I don’t think it would be possible for me to speak English fluently, to go to college with a good GPA, and to achieve what I have achieved today.”