Trio Upward Bound, an educational program at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) offered during the summer and academic year for high school students from low-income families and first-generation families, has been officially reinstated for another five years after receiving its 2.3 million dollar grant from The United States Department of Education.
“We start in the middle school,” said Stacy Denton, Director of Trio-Upward Bound. The students work their way through the program, using it as a leg up to get into colleges and select successful career paths during high school. “We will work with them on careers, relationship building, and we will figure out what they like and what they don’t like.”
The program offers internships, work-study programs, and after-school programs for students to learn from. Denton said that the program is set in place to help students make informed decisions before they ever sign up for a major in university.
“The work-study program is set in place because students might want to do one thing, but when they sit down and get ready to do it, they realize, oh, maybe not, but you know, there’s something close to it that we could do,” Denton said.
The internships land Trenton students in offices across a broad spectrum of careers, evening putting them next to government officials like Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson. Dominic Garcia is one of the students volunteers with Assemblywoman Reynolds-Jackson.
“The first thing is that you will only get out of this program what you put into it. So if you put a lot of effort into it, if you’re present at every single meeting, if you show that you’re here not You’re not just here for the ride, you know, you’re here to make a difference. You’ll get these wonderful opportunities. You know, you’ll be able to take these classes, you’ll be able to be offered these opportunities, and you’ll be able to do what you want to do,” Garcia said.
The program also puts students on the ground in their careers. “We see a lot of our students that volunteer at the hospital,” Denton said, “They are now working in the hospital. So it’s very important that we assign them a community organization that fits their goals.”
Dulce Gomez is one of those students volunteering at the Capitol Health Junior volunteer program. She is a junior in high school and a first-generation student looking to go to college to study nursing.
“I want to go into a nursing career. So I thought that this would be a great idea and something good to add to my resume. Just because I know that nursing schools are now very picky about the students that they’re choosing, so I’m just trying to do everything to stand out,” Gomez said.
Part of the mission of Upward bound is to encourage and assist people who are traditionally under-represented in upper education because of income, family educational background, and other factors.
Iraida Izaguirre, Educational Special/ Counselor and a first-generation student herself, said that this is a way for students to break the glass ceiling and become trailblazers.
“I’m the youngest of five siblings,” Izaguirre said. “I am the first to go to college. I’m the first to graduate from college…So being able to go to college and do the things that your family thought that wasn’t achievable. Being able to say, like you know what, just because of your statistics, just because people see you as a statistic, and not a favorable way, You can still push through those statistics.”
The program is one of the eight different programs from the TRIO Program. Izaguirre explains they do this by providing a support system to students that will lead them to success.
“We pretty much prepare them for college and college readiness and college access, letting them know that it is possible for you to go to college, although some students might not have family members that have attended, we’re that extra support system for them,” Izaguirre said.
According to the U.S Census, 71% of Trenton students are likely to graduate high school, with only 10% of students likely to graduate from a University. For the last 44 years, the Upward Bound program has boasted a 93% college graduation in 2021. They look to increase the number of students with college degrees in Trenton.
“Our goal in our program is get that number up because we have some amazing students in the city of Trenton,” Denton said.
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