Building bridges in the Upward Bound Program


Vashti Mccullough eagerly waits in line to hug Deborah Turner after her powerful speech at the Kiva Sunday, June 10, 2018. Academic advisor Heavann Steplight sheds tears while being comforted by faculty Patty Robinson.

Kelsie Kline

Deborah Turner, a lawyer and motivational speaker, brought the crowd of Northeast Ohio high school students to tears when she explained her life struggles and triumphs.

Kent State University hosted the Upward Bound Program in the Kiva Sunday and served as a new message for parents, students and faculty. Her message was to express the importance of reaching out to one another and creating a community to help build a life of success.

“Build bridges not walls,” Turner said. “Walls are not only physical structures, but they can also be a mindset that prohibits you to move forward.”

Turner grew up in an areas with a high crime rate in Cleveland, where her single mother worked hard and did everything she could for her and her sister. When she grew up, she taught full time at Cleveland Heights and then studied at night for law school. Her understanding of how she got through her tough obstacles, was to conquer it with desire and dedication — to keep moving, no matter what.

Henderson Ellis, the executive director of the Upward Bound Program, said he was speechless when he went onstage following Turner. He began to reflect on the establishment of Upward Bound in 1965 and how it instantly changed lives when it first was held on campus in 1971.

“In Upward Bound we don’t do anything halfway but here is the challenge. I prepared a speech,” he said. “But she brought it, I hope they receive the word about giving up, we don’t give up. The importance of building bridges and knocking down walls. I never referred the bridges as people until today. Parents, guardians, employees and your family are about to have an experience. If they are willing to build brighter, they will realize who they are. What I want you to do is begin to build bridges right in this room.”

This is an experience, to give them an opportunity to find out where they want to go to college, what career path to choose and most importantly to build relationships. The ultimate goal of this program is to get students to plan out their future based off of their personal desires and interests.

This six week pre-college program teaches hands on learning experience through classes in math, business, language, electives and field trips. Students will be engaged in social and cultural interactions through their peers and academic mentors. The activities this program arranges for students are: science classes, A.L.I.C.E. Training, community building, band, bike riding and full access to the Student Recreation and Wellness Center. Jordan Epps, a first time mentor, said she is excited about being a companion with these students.

“We are academic advisors, involved with the Upward Bound Program, and our job is to insist the instructors and the students for their journey in post secondary education,” Epps said.

The majority of faculty who work with students through the program seem to have a positive impact in the student’s hearts said Patty Robinson, the program director for Upward Bound Health Professions and Upward Bound Math Science.

“Fifty percent of faculty is coming back from our previous summer sessions because they love the students so much,” she said.

Cyiona Robin attends Early College High School in Canton and plans on participating in the program until she graduates. This was Robin’s first year attending the event and it already helped her build a new bridge to a brighter tomorrow.

“It influenced me to try harder,” she said. “My expectations are to learn more about my possible career choice and about majoring in the nursing program at Kent State University,” Robin said.

Turners “building bridges” metaphor, said a meaningful lesson for students is to understand the importance to ask for help, it does not make you weak, it only makes you stronger as an individual and generates new possibilities.  

“You are an eagle and an eagles can fly limitless. Don’t let anyone clip your wings. Don’t give up in your darkest hour, because you never know when the break through is right around the corner,” Turner said.

Kelsie Kline is a general assignment reporter. Contact her at [email protected].