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UW-Eau Claire Upward Bound program to receive Regents Diversity Award

| Julie Poquette

Upward Bound at UW-Eau Claire, a federally funded program that since 1990 has provided a path to post-secondary education for more than 400 disadvantaged students from Eau Claire’s North and Memorial high schools, has been named a recipient of the 2018 Diversity Award from the UW System Board of Regents.

The Regents Diversity Awards recognize individuals and programs that foster access and success for students who are members of historically underrepresented populations. Recipients are awarded $5,000 to support professional development or continue the program being honored.


Kimamo Wahome, director of Upward Bound

Kimamo Wahome, UW-Eau Claire Upward Bound director since 1994, will accept the award Feb. 9 during the regents’ meeting in Madison.

The Upward Bound program has had a substantial, positive impact in bringing institutional change to UW-Eau Claire in the area of equity, diversity and inclusion, enhancing the diversity of the student population when former Upward Bound participants attend the university, said UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt.

“Most importantly, Upward Bound has had a significant impact on closing the opportunity and equity gap for low-income, first-generation college students here at UW-Eau Claire and other post-secondary institutions in the state and around the country,” Schmidt said. “I am pleased to see this important program receive this recognition from the UW System Board of Regents.”

Caitlin Lee does not hesitate to say the program is deserving of the honor.

Lee, a 2003 UW-Eau Claire graduate who works as an equal opportunity program specialist at the university, is the oldest of 10 siblings born to Hmong parents who were refugees in Thailand following the Vietnam War. She was four years old in 1980 when the family left a refugee camp and moved to the United States.

Twelve years later, Lee became the first in her family to participate in UW-Eau Claire’s Upward Bound program as a high school student.

“The magnitude of that decision is still being felt and continues to unfold in immeasurable ways,” Lee wrote in a letter supporting Upward Bound’s nomination for the Diversity Award.

All of Lee’s siblings also participated in Upward Bound at UW-Eau Claire and went on to pursue post-high school education programs. When the youngest sibling, now a UW-Stevens Point sophomore, graduates, all will have completed those programs as well.

“The Upward Bound program opened doors and opportunities that set my family on a journey that many only dream of: using education to not only help uplift ourselves out of poverty, but empower ourselves into spaces we never imagined occupying — community leader, compliance officer, software engineer, business owner, etc.,” wrote Lee, who also is a former president of the Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association board of directors and a co-founder of the Hmong Women Summit in Eau Claire.

Upward Bound at UW-Eau Claire is funded to serve 73 Eau Claire public high school students from low-income families and/or whose parents did not earn college degrees. Seventy percent of program participants come from Eau Claire’s southeast Asian (Hmong/Laotian) immigrant community and have an urgent need for English as a second language services. In 2017, the program secured grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education for another five years, from September 2017 through August 2022.

“Although education is often said to be the great equalizer and the key to upward social mobility, Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of true justice and equality will not be realized until, and unless, we ensure there is equal access to equal opportunity,” Wahome said. “This access to opportunity through education is what Upward Bound provides to the students it serves.”

During the previous Upward Bound five-year funding cycle, from 2012-13 to 2016-17, the annual rates of high school graduation and placement in post-secondary education programs by UW-Eau Claire Upward Bound participants ranged between 90 and 100 percent. Those rates compare “extremely favorably” with the college-going rates among the seniors at the high schools that Upward Bound serves, according to the Diversity Award nomination submitted to the Board of Regents.

For the high school graduating class of 2015, for example, Upward Bound participants had a college-going rate of 90 percent, while the rate for all low-income seniors from North and Memorial high schools was 16.88 percent, and the rate among all graduates from the target schools was 51.35 percent.

UW-Eau Claire Upward Bound programming includes (1) curriculum, services and activities during the academic year, including intensive test preparation for the ACT Aspire and the ACT; and (2) a six-week residential summer program at UW-Eau Claire that includes academic instruction, targeted tutoring, academic and career counseling, postsecondary education planning, and social/cultural enrichment.

“I am thrilled to see the dedication and service of our Upward Bound team recognized, and I am truly appreciative of Kimamo’s many years of servant leadership,” said Dr. Tamara Johnson, UW-Eau Claire’s assistant chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion. “Programs such as Upward Bound are critical since they provide the fundamental support necessary for low-income/first generation high school students to matriculate to college.”

Top photo caption: Students and staff of the UW-Eau Claire Upward Bound 2017 residential summer program posed for a group photo. The university's Upward Bound program is a recipient of the UW System Board of Regents 2018 Diversity Award.