Student Spotlight

Student Spotlight

SpotlightIn Student Spotlight, we will feature recent accomplishments of current Upward Bound students.  These profiles will highlight the many academic accolades Upward Bound students receive during the year. 





Upward Bound Student Featured in Local Art Installation

Alisa MendezAlisa Cruz-Mendez, an intern of TOSS, is a STEAM advocate based in Morganton, NC. Alisa is a senior at Freedom High School, graduating with honors, and attending college in the fall. As a resident mathematician at TOSS, Alisa has increased the interdisciplinary practice of math and art and taught us all what it means to work tirelessly to execute a beautiful work of art. Alisa enjoys spending time with her dog, playing soccer, and running during her free time.

  1. Tell me more about the Fabric of Life arts festival and your piece in it?

I was invited by Kathryn to present a project for the public school students of Florence County. Every year Kathryn is invited by Artfields, an annual festival in Lake City, South Carolina, to create an interactive art piece for students. Artfields strives to revitalize a small town into a gallery where art is easily accessible and Southern artists are celebrated ( As an intern at TOSS and as a STEAM advocate, Kathryn thought it would be a great opportunity for me to create an installation that would allow me to display my knowledge of science and math while allowing me to explore art. 

  1. Is it a solo piece or a group project? Where did the inspiration for it come from?

I did most, if not all, of the work. I designed the installation with occasional assistance from Kathryn and executed the project all by myself. Kathryn really wanted to give me ownership and for me to be my own boss with this project so I could gain decision-making and critical thinking skills. I researched for weeks before curating an idea or design. The project criteria were very broad so the options were limitless, but it also made it difficult for me to design something that was eye-catching, included a math/science component, and at a large scale. I had primarily taken the science route and discovered a notable figure in biology, Henrietta Lacks, who embodied the unethical procedures that were performed on African Americans by scientists in the early 1900s. While the idea did fit the criteria for the installation and matched TOSS’s values of racial equity, there was no clear way to translate Henrietta's story into art. I then turned to the math route where I was able to rediscover concepts that I had learned last year during my time at the NC Governor’s School. I was ecstatic when I was able to connect my previous experiences to a project of this scale. After timeless research, I was able to dive deeper into topology - a branch of mathematics that discovers geometric shapes and how they can be deformed in space and different dimensions. I was able to pick our 2 mathematical concepts from topology - knot theory and fractals. I was then able to use the 4-color theorem when deciding the color palette for the yarn in the installation. This was probably the hardest part since I was limited to the colors and amount of yarn I had because we did not want to purchase any additional yarn since we already had an abundance at the studio. Yet, this was crucial because TOSS wanted to also emphasize its value in environmental sustainability. 

  1. Tell me about your interest in art? When did that start? What is your favorite thing to create?

It seems like a paradox for me to be working at an art studio and creating a large art piece. I never had access to an arts education growing up since my parents did not see the value in it. Naturally, I never took it upon myself to take an art class in middle or high school. Yet even with my lack of an education in the arts, I was still able to create something beautiful. This was an exciting opportunity for me and for TOSS especially because we have a large emphasis on providing all students with an arts education regardless if they are interested in an arts-related career or not. TOSS realizes the value of art education as it allows students to begin thinking creatively and critically which is crucial in all facets of life.

I would say the closest thing to art-making that I like to create is writing. I find it difficult to voice everything I want to say and feel, but writing has helped me think carefully and reflect on myself. During this time of solitude that I have with writing, I have created a deep and intimate relationship with myself. 

  1. What are your future plans? Have you decided on a college and what do you want to study?

I have not officially decided where I want to attend college, but I will either be going to UNC-Chapel Hill or Duke University. I will be making this decision very soon so I can give you an update when I decide if that is helpful information. I am also not very sure of what I want to study but I want to go into the social sciences route and I am considering either Interdisciplinary Studies, Medical/Evolutionary Anthropology, or Public Policy. 

Fabric of Life will provide students with a fun, interactive way of creating to connect. Through this project, students should be able to identify themselves as an important component of the collective health and well-being of Florence County. Fabric of Life will consist of a large installation of yarn and textile fibers that will create an opportunity for students to walk through a landscape of art guided by a map. The map will lead them to an activity table near the corner of the room where they can work on a 10-20 minute activity to take home. 

Make & Take Activity

Students will create a landscape with yarn, fabric, and other textile materials. Students will utilize yarn (just as the installation does) to create a picture of Florence County (images will be provided for inspiration). In accordance with our theme, Fabric of Life, each thread in the landscape is representative of each community member in Florence - each contributing in a unique way to community unity and prosperity.

STEAM Connection

An underlying purpose of the installation is for students to understand and easily visualize different mathematical concepts (four-color theorem, fractals, and knot theory) through our 3-dimensional, interactive sculpture. Students will have age-appropriate info about the mathematical concepts embedded in their maps. Connecting the disciplines of art and math in a meaningful way is critical to breaking down sociopolitical and historic disparities dictating who participates in certain disciplines which communities benefit as a result.

 About TOSS

Based in Morganton, NC, TOSS is an advocacy studio of The Industrial Commons. Our mission is to educate our community around the future of work, environmental sustainability, and racial justice. Harnessing the power of art and community organizing, we work toward personal and institutional transformation for and with working-class families. Learn more at

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This was an exciting opportunity for me and for TOSS especially because we have a large emphasis on providing all students with an arts education regardless if they are interested in an arts-related career or not. TOSS realizes the value of art education as it allows students to begin thinking creatively and critically which is crucial in all facets of life. 

Frida Paz Miranda, Upward Bound student at WHS, wins regional competition with her Robitics Team

 WHS Robotics Team

Frida is pictured above (back row, 3rd from the right) with her robotics team — known as Tungsteel — after winning first place in FIRST Tech Challenge Tournament on Feb. 1 in Asheville. Frida's team also won the contest’s Collins Aerospace Innovate Award.

Frida says the following about her team:

"Our team is made up of 16 talented members that have skills in many different areas in engineering and STEM/STEAM. Everyone on the team had a far share of jobs which we are tasked to ourselves and by our Project Manager Maggie Quigley. I am part of the CAD (a Computer Aided Design program) team where we made parts of the robot which we used leading up to tournaments. We were lead by Luke Doty on the process since the CAD Team is relatively new in the Robotics team, we were also helped by our Drafting teacher Dinah Miller. I did a little bit of building the robot but since this was my first year in robotics my new learned skills could only go far when it came to building the robot. However I do have some leadership in the club; I’m the lead Social Media coordinator along with my team member Adonis Assad. Along with Adonis and I we also translated code to many different languages for others to use, I was in charge of the Spanish translation!"

Frida also said the following about how Upward Bound has helped her:

"Upward Bound has encouraged me to expand my horizons when it comes to my personal learning. For an example; my favorite part of Upward Bound is dorm living and getting a taste of how life is like on a university campus which is something not everyone has the opportunity to do!"

Upward Bound prepares WHS student for college

Noah Pearson

Upward Bound Senior Noah Pearson is featured in the Watauga Democrat.  Read all about his plans to attend The Citadel in the Fall. 


Darren's Upward Bound Graduation Speech 2019

There are over one hundred billion stars in our universe, yet we only see a small fraction of them.  We can’t imagine how vast and ever growing our universe is, but one thing I do know is how lucky we are to be here, to be alive, to exist.  From a certain point of view, life can seem meaningless, as if nothing we accomplish in our life will ever really impact the universe as a whole.  But from a different perspective, we’re lucky to be here, to be alive. Every human life has value. Not one more valuable than the other. We are all equal.  What isn't equal is what we choose to do with the time given to us. Should we waste it? Should we use our time as a surrogate to make ourselves more comfortable and no one else?  Or should we embrace it? Use our life to do great things to help other people in unique and beneficial ways? I believe this choice is given to us in one way or another through Upward Bound.  It gives us an opportunity to accomplish our dreams while also helping those around us. For example, over the past two summers in Upward Bound, I as well as my classmates, have participated in many community service activities such as helping people rebuild a campsite for disabled children and helping a mission store take in donations.

Upward Bound has given me many memories to cherish.  In fact, when I was asked what my favorite memory of my time in the program was, it was difficult to choose just one.  Every time my friends and I talked till late hours of the night about nothing and everything, from shouting “Milk and Cereal!” only for everyone in the whole program to shout it back, to the RA’s helping me through some personal hardships; my entire experience in the program has been amazing.  On a surface level, Upward Bound may seem like a program for “smart people”, or at least it did to me, but like I said at the beginning of this speech, every person is equal, no one is inherently less or more valuable than anyone else. It's all a measure of the work and dedication that someone should put into themselves to grow as a person.  Upward Bound made me realize this, Upward Bound showed me that I wasn’t less than any other person, I wasn't different, at least not in terms of measuring my own worth. So to the underclassmen coming into the program, I know you’re scared, I know it may seem like this is getting in the way of your summer, but I will assure you that it doesn't.  Upward Bound has helped me exponentially to find myself and discover who I am as an individual. Ask anyone here in this senior class or even the juniors, Upward Bound has impacted our lives in what I personally believe to be one of the best experiences we've ever had through; every college tour, every class, and every activity. It’s all an effort to help you better yourself and lay out a foundation for your future.

I can’t thank Upward Bound enough for everything the program has done for me, for my friends, for the memories, and for helping me achieve my goals.  Thank you guys for everything.


Darren Wyatt
West Wilkes High School


Upward Bound Students Excel at State and Regional Scholars' Bowl Competitions

Earlier this year, Upward Bound scholars participated in the NC TRiO Student Initiatives Conference Scholars' Bowl at Central Carolina Community College.  The teams won first and third place and qualified to advance to the Southeastern Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel (SAEOPP) Regional Scholars' Bowl Competition in Atlanta, Georgia. The students placed third overall at the regional competition. 

In addition to attending the conference, students toured downtown Atlanta and the World of Coca-Cola. 

Students who competed in the state competition included Gideon Downs, Serena Burkley, Megan Helton, Miguel Gaspar, Gabe Powers and Noah Pearson (third place team).  Ava Wright, Walker, Eggers-Townsend, Hanna DeBord, Ashley Vang, and Benjamin Vang placed first in the state competition.  The team who competed and placed third in the regional competition included Serena Burkley, Megan Helton, Gabe Powers, Ava Wright, Hanna DeBord, and Benjamin Vang. 








Juan Jaramillo Chico

Juan Photo

Upward Bound student Juan Jaramillo Chico is a senior at Ashe County High School with a 3.75 weighted GPA.  Because of his exemplary academic status, Juan was invited to participate in Discover Swarthmore 2017 in September. 

Each fall, Swarthmore College conducts Discover Swarthmore at their Pennsylvania campus. Participants attend actual college classes, stay and eat on campus, and attend panel discussions related to college admissions, financial aid, and life at the institution- all at no cost to the attendants.

During his weekend at Swarthmore, Juan was one of about 100 attendees.  He was paired with a current student and shared a dorm room with him during the event.  Juan attended a discreet math and an inorganic chemistry class, and he really enjoyed the discussion format of the classes involving back-and forth conversations between the students and professors. Prior to the event, Juan was not familiar with Swarthmore, but after attending Discover Swarthmore, he plans to apply and would consider attending college there. Juan was impressed with the intimate size of the campus, and he noted that it reminded him of Ashe County and Western North Carolina. Juan plans to major in either Microbiology or Math.

Juan also wanted to add "I just want to thank everyone at UB for all of the support that they have given me and everyone in the program. I couldn't have done amazing things like this without you guys. I love you all!". 

Swarthmore College is a private, liberal arts school located in the outskirts of Philadelphia. Founded in 1864, Swarthmore’s total enrollment is 1,620 students.  For more information about Discover Swarthmore, visit