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Celebrating 50 years of Upward Bound student success stories at SMU
Jul 21, 2018
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Summer on-campus program runs through July 12

DALLAS (SMU) – The slogan on the red T-shirted backs of Upward Bound students at SMU this summer tells the whole story - "Student with a graduation goal." 

Their goal is to become one of the 90 percent of SMU Upward Bound students who attend college after high school graduation. That’s no small achievement in Texas, where just 50 percent of high school students attend college after graduation.

Upward Bound supports college preparation for high school students from low-income families or from families where neither parent holds a bachelor's degree. This year SMU celebrates 50 years of graduates from the Upward Bound college access program, created in 1964 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. The SMU Upward Bound program began in 1966 and the first class graduated in 1968.

A total of 349 high school students from high schools in Dallas ISD, Garland ISD, and Lancaster ISD, and Duncanville ISD participate in SMU’s year-round Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math Science programs. The programs include in-school tutoring, college visits, Saturday academies and regular mentoring.


Anika Lazreia, a senior at Carter High School, has been involved in SMU Upward Bound since ninth grade. She wants to become a computer engineer and is taking AP physics and calculus at SMU this summer in order to be prepared for a challenging class load in the fall.

“Upward Bound changed my mind drastically,” she says. “I really didn’t think about going to college. Now I wake up at 6 a.m. to get here for classes.”

Anika is one of 110 Upward Bound students on the SMU campus for six weeks this summer.  From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. students attend advanced placement courses in subjects like chemistry, calculus and collegiate writing. Junior and seniors in the program live on campus for six weeks, spending the nights in residence halls, learning about the complexities of life with roommates, selecting healthy foods at dining halls and getting enough sleep to meet for breakfast at 7 a.m. each morning.

Students also learn about career preparation, college applications and financial aid applications.


Jessica Stigers, director of SMU Upward Bound, knows about the program first hand. As a South Oak Cliff High School student and SMU Upward Bound participant from 1997 to 2001, she found a group of students and adults who became like family to her.

“I was around people with the same goals,” she said. Stigers earned a bachelor’s degree from Paul Quinn College and a master’s degree from Lubbock Christian University. She has hired ten SMU Upward Bound alumni to serve on the staff this summer as counselors in the residence halls.

Ellis Wheatfall, a special education teacher and football coach at Pinkston High School, leads the summer Upward Bound residential counselors. He participated in Upward Bound from 2007 to 2010 as a Pinkston student, grudgingly at first.

“I was rebellious when my dad encouraged me to get into the program,” he says. “But I made a 360-degree change in attitude.”

Wheatfall’s father raised him, solo, after his mother’s death when he was eight. The youngster’s turnaround from rebel to scholar was noticeable. When Wheatfall graduated from high school, he was named the top male SMU Upward Bound student.

Wheatfall earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stephen F. Austin University. Accepted to three doctoral programs, he plans to begin his Ph.D. in the fall.

In the meantime, Wheatfall is giving back, spending part of his summer with Upward Bound students that remind him of himself at that age. After teaching summer school at Pinkston during the day, he arrives on campus at 3 p.m. to supervise evening activities.

“I went through the same things they are,” he says. “I’ve walked in their shoes. My reward is when I see them come around.”