Upward Bound Alumni

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 been part of the program over the years. 

Hannah Adcox

What dreams for your life and career do you have? 

Hannah Adcox

My dream is to start my own non-profit bakery/shelter specifically for neglected youth. I want to provide a loving home/shelter for individuals that are neglected, abandoned, or worse by their family, and help them find reassurance in themselves. I want to provide a space where these individuals can learn the skills that kids with able parents learned every day.

What obstacles are in the way to achieving those dreams?

To achieve this dream and life, I knew at a young age that I would need to get a high paying job to afford a non-profit. I honestly had no clue how much harder I would have to work just to survive, let alone be able to afford an education. My parents refused to sign FAFSA forms which would allow me to be able to afford college tuition, this caused a HUGE stressor as well as dealing with my own mental and physical health.

What resources have you had access to that have helped you overcome those obstacles? What role did the Upward Bound program play in your journey of education?

The above two questions are kind of hand-in-hand, for me.  After joining Upward Bound in high school, education became a way for me to escape my poverty-stricken life. My family was constantly in and out of homelessness;  I never had stability or support, and that had a huge impact on my education and mental physical well-being, I eventually left and “couch surfed” throughout high school.

Upward Bound gave me the opportunity to see that life wasn’t just what it seemed at home; it’s what you decide to make it. The Upward Bound Program, as well as the individuals working for the program, saved my life. Life became really difficult, and I felt like no one was there to help me. Then one day in English class, Aaron Gersonde came in to talk to the class about the Upward Bound Program. That was the first time I had hope for my future, and that was the first time I ever felt like someone else believed in me.

After graduating from Watauga High School in 2014, I was given the opportunity to work for Upward Bound on the Appalachian State University campus, and I continued working for them, as well as GEAR UP until the summer of 2016. I also worked for several fast-food restaurants and eventually began working as a waitress making pretty good money. During that time, I was also attending Caldwell Community College in Boone and working on my Associates Degree to transfer to a 4-year college.

When I needed a dependency override because my parents refused to sign my FAFSA forms to receive financial aid, the director of Upward Bound was there for me. I couldn’t tell you the amount of times someone working for that program impacted my life in some way.

What inspirational advice would I give to someone who is facing difficulty achieving his/her goals and dreams?

As a first-generation high school and community college graduate, I’ve already been blessed with an education greater than anything that I could have ever imagined. My advice would be to remember that you’re your biggest advocate and that education and knowledge are true power. Remember, there is no time limit on your goals and dreams unless you set one. It took me 4 years to finish an Associates Degree, but I did it. I had to take a medical leave of absence from school due to being diagnosed with a genetic and rare disease called Eagles Syndrome and needing surgery on my head/neck. I’ve since still had several undiagnosed and diagnosed medical conditions that on a daily basis make life harder to get through.

Believe in yourself and talk to your professors. I even convinced the dean of my department to create a new class so that I could receive credit for an internship (and I got paid!). I applied for Actuarial Internships that would help boost my resume and my skill set. My first internship was at the North Carolina Department of Insurance in Raleigh, NC. This was a great experience, and I got to learn a lot about Actuaries and work on some really cool projects. My second internship (currently still working for them) is with Voya Financial, and this company is absolutely amazing. I’m currently looking for Associate Actuarial positions for my upcoming graduation in December and hope for a position at Voya to open up.

General Info (what school are you currently attending, what's your major, and are there clubs or activities you'd like to include?) 

Currently I’m attending North Carolina A&T State University (fully remote Economics program) and I LOVE it. It’s amazing, I’ve had outstanding grades and a current GPA of 3.81. I’m part of the Desse Mentor Program and enjoy competing in Data Competitions (such as the Duke DataFest). In my free time, I love hanging out with my princess Ari(a), she is a 5-year-old Labrador mix stray we adopted around 4 ½ years ago! My boyfriend of 5 years and I bought a beautiful house here in Boone after moving away to the Raleigh area for a few years. I’m currently studying for the Actuarial exams and working for Voya Financial while I finish my final two classes until my graduation in December!

Kathleen Harb

Kathleen JoinesWhat dreams for your life and career do you have?

Currently, my goal is to graduate from High Point University with my PharmD in 2024, get accepted into a clinical residency program, and specialize in either general medicine or oncology. I would love to move back towards the mountains of NC if more clinical positions become available in that area. If not, I’d love to work as a clinical pharmacist in one of the large hospitals in the Triad. 

What obstacles are in the way to achieving those dreams?

One of my biggest obstacles is myself. I, like so many other first generation college students, suffer from imposter syndrome. I often find myself wondering things like, “Do I belong here?”, “Am I good enough to be here?”, or “Am I as smart as my peers?”. I have to remind myself that even though no one in my circle has obtained a college degree (especially a doctorate degree), I deserve the chance to earn one and I am fully capable of it. 

What resources have you had access to that have helped you overcome those obstacles?

During my undergraduate experience, I was a part of Student Support Services at Appalachian State. Having an advisor to talk to within that program and taking classes with students that grew up having similar experiences as me helped me gain confidence in my undergraduate career. Without that confidence, I would never have done as well as I needed to to be where I am today. 

What role did the Upward Bound program play in your journey of education?

Upward Bound helped me to foster self confidence during my time in high school. It gave me the opportunity to learn more about future career options and pushed me to become a better student. Upward Bound surrounded me with wonderful mentors and peers who showed me that anything is possible and gave me the tools that I need to achieve it.

I had a unique experience with Upward Bound because I worked as an office assistant and a resident assistant for the program during my undergraduate time. This allowed me to make even stronger connections to the Upward Bound team. Working with Upward Bound helped me to solidify my future plans by giving me a wonderful group of people to talk to. They helped me set realistic goals, write my personal statement for my PharmCAS application, and gave me advice when I needed it. Don’t forget that the Upward Bound team is there for you even after you graduate from high school. 

What inspirational advice would I give to someone who is facing difficulty achieving his/her goals and dreams?

YOU CAN DO IT! Anything you want to achieve - you can! Hard work is exactly what it sounds like. It is hard, and sometimes it isn’t fun, but it is doable. You are surrounded by a wonderful Upward Bound staff that is there to help you set the stage for your future. If you learn how to work hard now, you can do anything you want to later in life. 

Jennifer Salazar-Sanchez

What dreams for your life and career do you have?Jennifer Salazar-Sanchez

My dream has always been to attend medical school and eventually become a doctor, but for now, I will be taking a detour from that. The situation from the pandemic has opened my eyes to a lot of problems and disadvantages that are affecting certain populations around the world. As a result, I will be pursuing a Master's in Public Health and use that to better certain situations of people and communities who have faced challenges during these troubling times. 

What obstacles are in the way to achieving those dreams?

I believe that as a Latina and as a woman, those would be an obstacle to achieving those dreams. The reason is that many people wouldn't want to give a chance to a person of that background, but I believe that can change. 

What resources have you had access to that have helped you overcome those obstacles?

My university has given me several opportunities to succeed, from my professors being there to assist me, to all the faculty and staff who have been a listening ear. Other resources have been my family because they understand how hard it is to sometimes reach your goals.  

What role did the Upward Bound program play in your journey of education?

UB really changed my life! They assisted me in finding scholarships to college applications because for me that was the most difficult part during those times. There have been times that I reached out to them during my college experience and ask them questions about anything because I wasn't really sure who to ask! Ultimately, UB became family and I am truly grateful for all the help that they have given me!

What inspirational advice would I give to someone who is facing difficulty achieving his/her goals and dreams? 

I think that the greatest advice that I could give anyone would be to never give up! There have been times where I thought to myself if I would ever be able to pursue my dream, but despite the challenges and the roadblocks, I kept going. You should never let yourself down because you might regret it, but if you keep going, you will get to experience the most beautiful and wonderful things the world can offer you. If people feel like they might not be good for a particular career, don't be afraid of change, because that might be the best thing to ever happen to you! 

Gilberto Ramirez

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."

Gil Ramirez

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.

Abigail Luna

As featured on the National College Access Network blog...

October 12, 2017

By Kim Szarmach

For students under-represented in higher educationevery 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-StudyAmeriCorps, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Abigail LunaAs 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.”


Elizabeth Mnatzaganian

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.

Martin Ledezma

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.