Bowdoin Upward Bound’s War on Poverty

The first Upward Bound class at Bowdoin, taken in 1966.

The first Upward Bound class at Bowdoin, taken in 1966.

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced a nationwide war on poverty and launched legislation that included new financial aid and college-access programs. The following year, Bowdoin College embraced the mission to help fight poverty here in Maine by establishing the state’s first Upward Bound program.

Despite the waxing and waning of federal support, Bowdoin has maintained the project continuously since its inception at the College in 1965. Running out of a small campus office in Dudley Coe, Upward Bound identifies, with help from guidance counselors and high school teachers, promising high school freshmen and sophomores in Maine who are living in entrenched poverty, with slim chances of making it to college. Through an application process, the program invites 25 to 30 students each year to participate in its intensive multi-year academic program to give them the skills and motivation to succeed at college.

Bowdoin’s Upward Bound program works in communities that have been impacted by mill closures and a lack of economic opportunities, including Gardiner, Lewiston, Lisbon and Bath, and towns in Maine’s poorest county, Washington County. In total, four Maine universities and Bowdoin run Upward Bound programs that serve high schools across the state.

In the past 49 years, Bowdoin Upward Bound has worked with over 2,000 students. Graduates have gone on to become first-generation students at colleges and universities, including at Bowdoin. This year, based on its financial funding from the federal government, Upward Bound is working with 107 students who have committed to its three- or four-year program. “Today, skyrocketing college costs, the labor market demand for postsecondary education and the well-documented growing gap between rich and poor in the U.S. make Upward Bound’s work as relevant as ever,” said Bridget Mullen, Bowdoin’s Upward Bound director.

The program, while free for participants, costs about $4,200 per year per student. This includes a six-week residential program on Bowdoin’s campus in the summer. The summertime program happens twice: once between students’ sophomore and junior years, the other between their junior and senior years. During this residence, Upward Bound students take courses taught by local high school teachers in writing, literature, foreign languages, lab-based sciences and math. They also receive training in areas such as leadership, conflict resolution and mindfulness, and are taken on cultural field trips.

The program hires many Bowdoin students to be teaching assistants and residential advisors during the summer. Bowdoin students also work as tutors and mentors to the high schools students throughout the academic year in Upward Bound’s follow-up programs.

“This is what it takes if you want to take a student who is struggling with real hurdles and ensure he or she has the skills and motivation to make it all the way through college,” Mullen said.

thumb:Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 14.34.30