Wittenberg Upward Bound marks 50 years with success stories

When Wittenberg University’s Upward Bound program marked its 50th anniversary with an alumni reunion, it was as much about celebrating the success stories as it was marking the organization’s longevity.

A crowd of 350 people filled Wittenberg’s Benham-Pence Student Center late last month to celebrate alumni, organizers and their achievements from the federally-funded pre-college preparatory program that offers extra academic skills for students from first-generation college and low-income families interested in pursuing higher education.

About 3,000 area students have gone through the program to earn bachelor’s and post-graduate degrees since 1966, according to Eddie Chambers, Wittenberg’s Upward Bound director for all but its first 12 years.

“This program is like when a plant needs water: kids need encouragement to grow. It’s not until years later you see what they turn into,” he said.

Chambers also shared that 99 percent of the of students in the local program graduate high school, 85 percent go to two or four-year colleges and 65-70 percent graduate within six years.

Wittenberg is one of the oldest of about 35 Upward Bound programs in Ohio.

Upward Bound is part of the Federal TRiO Programs for outreach and student services that evolved from the Higher Education Act of 1965.

“When they come here, they can get the family support they may or may not have at home, and when we see something we intervene,” said Chambers. “Intervention is key.”

Springfield City Commissioner Joyce Chilton, whose husband, Paul, is an Upward Bound graduate, presented a proclamation from the city. Earlier, the program received a similar proclamation from the White House and signed by President Obama.

“That came out of the clear blue,” said Chambers. “I had to read it two or three times to prove it was real.”

Upward Bound graduates came from across the country for the reunion. Several shared their stories about the impact it’s had on them:

Cassy Collier

Eight years out of the last class to graduate South High School, Cassy Collier’s academic achievements keep piling up. Following a bachelor’s from Bowling Green State and a master’s from the University of Louisville, she’s about to enter her second year of a doctoral program at Arizona State, hoping to become a professor in women’s and gender studies.

“I would not be anywhere near it without Upward Bound,” said Collier. “It made me a better person.”

Starting as a freshman, she gained the academic skills, attitude, mindset and social skills to prepare for higher education. Collier added without the grounding she learned she’d have never even gone out of state to school, an important part of the program.

Dr. Joseph Apone

In the late 1960s, people’s eyes were on the stars with the imminent moon landing, and kids aspired to be astronauts, including Dr. Joseph Apone.

But with academic setbacks, Apone figured he’d be grounded for life. After his brother James was in the first Upward Bound class, he followed, graduated from North High in 1969 and today has a PhD in electrical engineering.

“It gave me a foundation. My mom was a poor Southern girl and she said the only way to get anywhere in life was college. I didn’t know how to do college. I’m glad Upward Bound is still going.”

He never reached the moon, but his work keeps people in the skies, working on helicopters.

Bradley Cobb

“Upward Bound is the difference between where I am and where I could’ve been,” said Bradley Cobb, part of Upward Bound’s Class of 1981 and a North High graduate. “This program saved me.”

Cobb is an assistant prosecuting attorney in Detroit. As a youth, he realized his opportunities were limited and was driven to achieve.

Although he earned a degree in accounting and worked for Dow Chemical, Cobb wanted more still. Always interested in the law, he went back and earned his law degree in 1992 and is celebrating 20 years in the field. And if that wasn’t enough, he also became a pastor.

Neil and Michelle Stewart

Upward Bound brought Neil and Michelle Stewart together in the 1980s.

The North High graduates supported each other through their studies at Northwestern University. Michelle earned a PhD and works for the City of Detroit, and Neil has an MBA and works in finance.

“It speaks to pushing kids like us,” Neil said.

Michelle added the program is a confidence booster that also gives kids lifelong mentors and has inspired them to return to speak at Upward Bound summer banquets.

W. Marvin Dulaney

Though he only worked for Wittenberg Upward Bound from 1978-81, W. Marvin Dulaney has never really left the program. He’s come back several times since.

He worked to get his students scholarships once they graduated from the program and has seen successes such as a nurse who went on to open free clinics and another who worked for the nuclear energy commission, paying things forward.

Dulaney has worked with several other Upward Bound programs and colleges such as Central State, Texas Christian and currently the University of Texas at Arlington. He returned to Wittenberg earlier this year for a Black History Month lecture and was glad to be there for the reunion.

“Working with the students was a lot of fun. We fought sometimes, but they listened and look where some of them are.”

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