Upward Bound students come from a variety of backgrounds and have faced both personal and academic challenges. Please take some time to read these inspirational interviews of a few UB students who have attended App State over the years.
As featured on the National College Access Network blog...
October 26, 2017
By Kim Szarmach
Math has always been a piece of cake for Gilberto Ramirez, a freshman at Appalachian State University studying actuarial science. He took demanding classes like Statistics and AP Calculus during high school, but nothing challenged him as much as filling out the FAFSA.
“It was quite stressful for me because of the lack of my parents’ understanding of English," Gilberto, whose family is of Guatemalan descent, said. "They didn’t understand it so in the end I had to go and do it all."
Gilberto will stop at nothing to achieve his dream of earning a degree. He got the financial information he needed from his parents, and slowly learned how to fill out the FAFSA all by himself. He ended up receiving a federal Pell Grant and some scholarship money from his state, North Carolina, and is so far able to attend college debt-free.
Without the aid he is receiving, it would be a lot harder for Gilberto to go to Appalachian State.
"I would have had to take out loans and I probably would have had to apply for a lot more scholarships," he said. "The chances would have gone down a lot because my parents wouldn’t have been able to pay the $19,000 a year.”
Now that he's received the aid he needs to finance his higher education, freshman year has been smooth sailing for Gilberto.
He had participated in the Upward Bound program at Appalachian State throughout high school. For two summers, he took courses that would prepare him for college on the university's campus. He also got to tour colleges and universities all over the country.
“With the help of Upward Bound it hasn’t been hard for me to transition because I’ve already been away from home," Gilberto said. "I felt like coming in, I was more prepared than a lot of the other students.”
Aside from taking a full course load, Gilberto is a member of Appalachian State's soccer team and has a part-time Federal Work-Study job as an administrative assistant for the director of the Student Learning Center at his school.
Gilberto is currently studying for the exams he must take to put his math skills to use as an actuary. He says there are six exams available and he wants to pass two of them before he graduates. You can typically get an actuarial position after passing the first two or three exams, but Gilberto wants to do them all.
"My goal would be to get a job with an insurance company or work for the government as an actuary and keep going with my exams until I have no more to pass,” he said.
The determination Gilberto has applied to becoming an actuary matches his approach to most everything in life.
“I’ve grown very independent," he said. "I never had my parents to help me with my homework, growing up. I took it on by myself and I did it. It’s not their fault, it’s just the way that it is.”
But Gilberto acknowledges that ambition alone is not enough to help other students like him achieve similar outcomes. He thinks that more resources should be available for parents who do not speak English as a first language, so their children can have an easier time applying to college and for financial aid.
“I feel like there’s not enough Spanish-speaking people to explain the college application process to parents of first-generation students," Gilberto said. "Because I think if they knew more about that kind of stuff, they would be more willing to help.
As featured on the National College Access Network blog...
October 12, 2017
By Kim Szarmach
For students under-represented in higher education, every dollar counts when piecing together a financial aid package. And their ability to obtain those dollars and succeed in college depends on policymakers establishing a Streamlined FAFSA and approving increased, sustainable funding for need-based aid like Pell Grants and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, as well as programs like Federal Work-Study, AmeriCorps, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
As she grew up, college was always a topic of conversation in Abigail Luna's house. Her parents, both immigrants, wanted her to have the opportunity to achieve a higher education, because they were never able to.
"My parents have always inspired me to be a good student and eventually attend college," she said. "I guess that’s always something I wanted to do in my life.”
But when it came time to apply, Abigail realized she would need financial help through federal student aid to make her family's dream come true.
“That was my goal: Go to college and pursue a career I wanted," Abigail said. "But, one thing that I thought would be a barrier was my financial need. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the scholarships I received."
Luckily, Abigail was able to receive guidance from Upward Bound Appalachian State University, which helped her fill out the FAFSA and apply for local scholarships as well. She was awarded enough aid to attend the University of North Carolina at Greensboro without having to take out student loans during her first year.
“There is a lot of stuff I wouldn’t know about if I wasn’t in that program, like financial aid or what classes I need to take if I want to go to college,” she said.
Now Abigail is a freshman studying International Business and getting into the swing of college life. She said she thinks her college and major are a great match for her needs and interests.
“My parents are from Costa Rica and I have uncles that are from Mexico and Guatemala, so I really like trying to understand different cultures," she said. "I also like learning different languages so I think International Business is a good fit for me as a major.”
Abigail hopes to continue her studies by getting a master's degree one day, but right now she's just focusing on making it through all four years of her undergraduate program. While her financial needs are currently being completely met by institutional and federal grants, Abigail plans on applying for more scholarships next year to ensure she can continue to finance her education.
“You never know” about financial aid, Abigail said. “It always depends on what I have and what I will receive.”
Asked how she thinks college access could be improved nationwide, Luna said she wishes everyone would have the resources she did when learning about applying to college during high school.
“There are a lot of students who don’t have someone in their family who went to college or don’t know anyone who received a higher education," she said, adding that institutions “should give more information to high school students who don’t have someone to help them.”
I grew up in Avery County in NC. Many students I grew up with did not finish school and many more students did not pursue higher education. Many of my classmates did not think that going to college would be possible. With the price of how much it costs to attend college and how much time and work it takes, many of my classmates did not even think about going to college. My parents wanted something different for my life and my brother's life.
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!
Moving to the U.S. was very challenging but quite interesting. It was difficult because of the language, but there were many teachers who supported me while learning the language. Middle school was where I struggled the most but high school was different: that was the place where my dream about going to college started.