Josie Varela is a former Upward Bound scholar from Alleghany High School. She is currently finishing her Bachelor's degree in Political Science at AppState.
Please talk a little about your background prior to attending Appalachian.
I grew up with three brothers and a mother who double played the role of a father. It was no easy task, but somehow we made it out alive. My father was in and out of our lives for my first nine years of existence. At the age of nine, he was completely out of the picture. My mother's education came to a halt at the young age of eleven when the educational system failed her. She did not want the same fate for my brothers and me so we moved to Sparta, North Carolina.
What obstacles are in the way to achieving your dreams?
For years, the thought of going to college never occurred to me. I felt like college was only an option for privileged white kids. It wasn't until the programs GEAR UP and Upward Bound that I began to understand that ANYONE could go to college. No matter your sex, your color or your family's income. My education became a get-away plan from the poverty cycle. I thought it was unfair that kids of color and kids living in low-income households were being held back from an education due to color and income. Perhaps that is the biggest social crime committed in the United States of America: inequalities in the education system. Those kids who are forced to stay in the poverty cycle were told that they "couldn't". Well, I am saying you CAN. If there is anything you get out of my story, I want it to be this: As long as you put your mind to something, you will find opportunities of happiness and success at every corner. My education has improved my life drastically and I would like the same for anyone who has been told "You Can't": Prove them wrong!
What role has the Upward Bound program played in your journey through education?
Upward Bound saved my life. I could go to college, I could become the first in my family to earn a four-year degree. Then I thought: why stop there? I can get a master's degree and even become the first person in my family to earn a PhD. Call me Dr. Varela. All these infinite opportunities became possible just by being in this program.
What inspirational advice would you give to someone who is facing difficulty achieving his/her goals and dreams?
It is incredible what power education can have and that is the best gift in the world to give to a child. I am in eternal debt to the Upward Bound program. Tuition and fees have been paid for by scholarships and grants. If I can do it, so can you. Go out there and change the system!