Upward Bound Florence Program gives students chance to study abroad before college


Students in the Upward Bound Florence program go sightseeing in Italy. The students are recently graduated high school seniors who are spending a month in Florence before starting as Kent State freshmen in the fall.

Alyse Rohloff

When 18-year-old Raymar Chambers stepped off the plane in Florence, Italy, he said the first thing he thought was how beautiful it was. It was his first trip out of the United States in his adult life.

Chambers, who will be a Pan-African Studies major in the fall, is a part of the Upward Bound Florence program, which sent nine newly graduated high school seniors to Florence, Italy, for a month. While in Florence, the students take two courses and begin their adjustment to college.

“We hope that they’re getting to see different points of view, certainly by being in a different country and such an old country like Italy,” said Frank Congin, director of academic relations for Kent State’s Office of Global Education. “I also hope that they are able to get a better appreciation of what they have here and their academics.”

The program is meant to expose students to a world few have seen much of, Congin said.

“It gives them a glimpse of the world outside of Ohio,” he said. “I would say 90 percent of the participants of this program haven’t traveled too much outside of this region. This really opens their eyes to a giant world outside. And it exposes them to things that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise.”

Because the program began at the end of May, many of the students had to miss their high school graduation ceremonies, but Chambers said it was worth it.

To be accepted into the program, students must be accepted to Kent State and be a part of the Upward Bound program, a college access program to help students that come from first-generation, low-income families. The Upward Bound program was created 51 years ago and has been at Kent State for about 46 years.

“The whole goal of Upward Bound is to provide opportunities and resources to (low-income) students,” said Jasmina Waters, assistant director of Upward Bound.

The applicants submitted letters of recommendation and a paper stating why they were selected, and they were screened for their level of maturity and determination.

“My only goal was to be accepted to Kent State,” Chambers said. “I had no idea about them even asking me about this program. They said congratulations, then they asked me, ‘How would you feel about coming to Florence, Italy?’”

After discussing the idea with the Office of Global Education about sending Upward Bound students to Florence, the program was written into the new grant cycle. Since Upward Bound is a federally funded program, this program was at no cost to these students, besides personal spending money. Money for the program comes from Upward Bound, the Office of Global Education, the Provost and other Kent State offices and schools.

“It’s really a campus-wide effort to get these students to go abroad,” Congin said. “It helps when you have upper administration like a program and believe in a program because it shows we’re able to get the coverage and it looks good for the university, and it really highlights what we’re doing right at Kent.”

Representatives from Upward Bound hope to continue to make improvements to the Florence program over the next few years and increase the number of students traveling to ten. The program is a part of the program’s goal to have students graduate within four to six years.

“Any opportunities or resources that we provide that can assist with them being prepared to get into college, being retained in college, assisting through and graduating, we’re going to take those steps to do that,” Waters said.

Chambers said this experience has prepared him for his freshman year at Kent State.

“This experience definitely makes me appreciate the life that I have back home,” he said. “But then it also gives me different aspects, living here, and things that I can bring back home to better myself and better my family, and to better my community as a whole.”

Contact Alyse Rohloff at [email protected]