Robots and "Wicked" prepare freshman to enroll and stay in college
With a rush of graduation celebrations, shopping for dorm décor and farewell fetes, incoming freshman ride a wave of hormones and well wishes into their first semester of college.
The good times don’t always last. Nearly one in three students fail to return after their first semester, according to the U.S. News and World Report.
Students’ reasons for dropping out are varied – the struggles of academics, pressures of family, demands of work or all of the above.
However, a federally funded program is helping prepare freshmen for college and ensure that they don’t venture into the vortex of college life alone.
An incoming freshman at University of Texas at Austin, Arturo Saldierna is one student beginning college with a built-in cheerleader and support system. For the past two years has participated in the federally funded Upward Bound program at College of the Mainland. The program assists Saldierna and other high school students, whose parents are low-income or without a bachelor’s degree, in preparing for, selecting, applying and enrolling in college.
COM Upward Bound director Ciro Reyes and other staff have also served as Saldierna’s coaches through years of road trips to colleges, SAT preparation and navigating the application process.
“Mr. Reyes motivated me to be the best I can be,” Saldierna recalled.
Now Saldierna is ready for the next step in his education, and though Reyes can’t travel to college with him, he’s doing the next best thing – connecting Saldierna with a federally funded sister program at UT. The program will continue providing the advising, academic tutoring and support Saldierna enjoyed at COM.
“We make sure we tie students in with the same support services at the university. We want to make sure they’re successful,” said Reyes.
In two years, Saldierna has bonded with both staff and classmates. He lights up as he remembers attending Upward Bound’s intensive six-week summer program with hands-on science, social studies, math and English classes. Algebra came to life for Saldierna as he inputted lines of code into computer software to manipulate coffee mug-sized robots called Boe Bots.
Besides practice in programming mini-R2D2s, Upward Bound gives students opportunities to expand their horizons with cultural activities, plays and concerts. Saldierna and other students recently traveled to the land of Oz via the novel “Wicked” and musical performance of the same name at the Houston Hobby Center.
“The program wants students to be well-rounded, not just good academically,” explained Reyes.
Throughout the school year, advisors visit Dickinson, La Marque and Hitchcock High Schools each week to discuss students’ classes and goals. Saldierna, who graduated in the top 20 from Dickinson High School in June, still seeks advice from Upward Bound staff. On their recommendation, he enrolled in sociology and English at COM this summer to sample college life in a familiar environment.
“I’m easing my way into college,” said Saldierna.
For Saldierna and many others, Upward Bound has become a family affair. Saldierna enrolled at the urging of his older sister, Jocelyn, who is an Upward Bound and COM associate degree graduate. She’s now pursuing a bachelor’s at the University of Houston.
Many students, inspired by an older brother or sister, eagerly anticipate the day they become old enough to apply, said Reyes.
“Their siblings’ success definitely changes what they feel they can do,” added Reyes. “At the end of the day it’s about students’ education not only changing their lives but their families’ as well.”
With $25,000 in federal aid and scholarships, Saldierna plans to major in architecture at UT. After Upward Bound, he feels prepared for balancing new classes, connections and clubs – he’s already been accepted to play the saxophone in the band.
“I learned to manage my time,” said Saldierna. “It’s a good skill to have for college.”