Established in 1966, The University of New Hampshire Upward Bound is one of the oldest in the United States. Upward Bound Programs emerged out of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty and the Economic Opportunity Act, which passed in 1964. In the late 1960’s several other federal outreach programs were established to prepare disadvantaged youth for post-secondary success, and eventually, these programs, along with Upward Bound, united as TRIO.
A hallmark of Upward Bound programs is the six-week summer residential program, which gives rising sophomores to rising senior high school students a first-hand look at college life. Students take courses, experience residence halls, and immerse themselves in a community of like-minded individuals and mentors.
Josh Gagnon is the Director of TRIO Upward Bound at the University of New Hampshire. “First-generation students have a host of unique challenges,” he told us. “I like to think of Upward Bound, and other TRIO/Educational Opportunity Programs, like a compass or GPS that helps them navigate these unique challenges. First-generation college students face a shift in identity where, for many, it may feel like they're breaking away from their family and in this new environment they doubt their abilities and have a sense of imposter syndrome.”
Like almost every organization dealing with students, Covid-19 presented even more challenges. The shelter-in-place mandates in March compelled the Upward Bound leadership to assess the immediate needs of their students as they struggled to shift to remote learning. Josh stressed how Upward Bound supplements any resources their students may lack. “Our students need professional mentors and support,” he said. “They usually have to work at least part time to help support their family and can’t take advantage of other educational opportunities. They can’t afford multiple college application fees or to go on college trips to determine fit; they struggle with the cacophony of academic and financial aid forms and worry about balancing family/work/academic responsibilities, not to mention the long-term worry of what to do about college debt.”
Once Josh and his team addressed the most immediate needs, they shifted to the development of a virtual summer program since the traditional residential summer program couldn't be an option.
First, Josh explained, they had to tackle the academic portion of the program. It was important academics remained rigorous, but not overwhelming. It was also critical to create a virtual community that imparted a sense of belonging and support for students and staff. Josh and his team worked to determine what the advantages of remote learning were—where could they leverage opportunities they wouldn’t have in person? That’s part of where career and college readiness came into play.
Every Friday, the summer program focused on career and college readiness. Students would start formulating postsecondary plans. They explored career clusters. They discovered what was important to them in career options and workplaces and how that intersects with the careers that interest them. The Upward Bound team also lined up a series of remote guest speakers consisting of TRIO alumni to emphasize that not every path is the same or even linear. Participating mentors included Krystal Hicks, a recruitment entrepreneur and owner of JobTalkLLC, and Chris Hernandez, currently the Orchestral Director of the Cambridge Public School System.
The summer program cumulated in a video presentation about a prospective career each student felt passionate about. The Upwards Bound team used VirtualJobShadow.com as a complete learning solution for this career and college readiness portion of their program. In week one, they had students take the two interest assessments, as well as the O*Net Work Importance Locater. Staff used both the mini-lessons and FlexLessons to introduce new topics and supplement learning. What they loved about FlexLessons was the ability to host any of the resources they had created or outside sources they wanted to include, such as the “Why Not Us” video. The fact that students’ work was stored and graded right on the platform, and that they could look back and reference their assessment results, playlists, and lessons, made their final project that much easier, Students had all evidence of their journey stored in one place. They simply had to compile and synthesize it when it came time.
The results of the final project are a real testament to the power of career exploration. Of all 50 students who submitted a final video presentation, not one of them submitted a video on the same career. The University of New Hampshire Upward Bound program now has 50 individual career videos completed by its student participants including, but not limited to, pediatrician, aerospace engineer, sound engineer, crime scene specialist, entrepreneur, social worker, video editor, teacher, and visual designer. Josh pointed out that without the support of Upward Bound and the opportunity to explore careers, students' futures largely are shaped by the jobs family and friends work. Now, a whole new world of careers lay before them.
Josh also discussed the evolution of career exploration. It used to be that an assessment told you what you were best suited for. But now, assessments are just a jumping off point. Maybe, Josh pointed out, you may not agree with the results, but there's still probably something to them. Why did they point you in this direction? What kinds of skills and values did the assessment show you possess and why do you think it said that? The insights and skillsets this exploration fosters are vital. The journey is just as important as the results.
The University of New Hampshire’s Upward Bound students will continue that journey with VirtualJobShadow.com. “I think VirtualJobShadow.com will be a significant part of our academic year curriculum,” Josh shared. “Those students who were with us this summer will continue to expand their career portfolio working with their advisors. We also will use it as part of our grade-level workshops, specifically expanding their college list. As for new students, we will be using the career/workplace inventories to start our discussion on career/college exploration.”