Embry-Riddle Gives First-Generation College Students a Boost, Backed by $1.3 Million Federal Grant

Rebekah Francis
Rebekah Francis, a graduate of Upward Bound and Embry-Riddle, is now living her best life in Chicago with her dog Natasha. (Photo: Rebekah Francis)

Before Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University alumna Rebekah Francis (’21) became the first member of her family to graduate from college, the prospect of higher education seemed almost overwhelming.

What would she study? How would she afford tuition? Would she like living on campus?

Then she was accepted into Upward Bound, an outreach program designed primarily to benefit low-income and first-generation college students. After that, everything changed.

“The most memorable part of Upward Bound was the five-week summer program where we got to stay on campus,” she said. “I met some of my best friends there — people I am still in touch with to this day.”

Essentially, Francis got to sample college life. Before the program, she was unsure of her career plan, but after spending time at Embry-Riddle, taking courses on topics such as uncrewed aircraft systems, global security and Russian — for each of which she earned college credit — she knew where she wanted to be.

Sheryl Gillum
Upward Bound Program Director Sheryl Gillum will help students explore educational pathways from learning to employment. (Photo: Sheryl Gillum)

“It was like having perfectly laid paving stones leading me right toward my future,” she said. “I was going to Embry-Riddle.”

Francis later graduated with a degree in Global Security. She now lives and works in Chicago in supply chain planning for Northrup Grumman.

“Upward Bound helped me figure things out and get prepared for campus life,” she said. “Our program advisors taught us about budget building, filling out college applications, how to apply for scholarships and how to write admission essays.”

To continue the legacy of students like Francis, the U.S. Department of Education recently awarded Embry-Riddle a five-year, $1.3 million grant to continue its Upward Bound initiative.

“With our focus on hands-on experiences, this program is a natural fit for career exploration and leadership opportunities,” said Dr. Anette Karlsson, chancellor of Embry-Riddle’s Prescott Campus, which hosts the program. “We want to increase the graduation rates for students by helping them develop an academic mindset for college and the motivation to get there.”

Francis’s advice for those who might also be interested in this program: “Don’t wait!”

“What the Upward Bound can teach you is invaluable,” she said. “It can be daunting when no one else in your family has gone to college, but Upward Bound does a fantastic job of getting you ready.”

Embry-Riddle’s Prescott Campus has received the Upward Bound TRIO grant for the past three cycles. Lori Kennedy, director of campus events, said, “To receive it again speaks to the commitment and dedication of our leadership and staff to serve the low-income and first-generation student population of Yavapai County and motivate them to succeed.”

Newly hired Upward Bound Program Director Sheryl Gillum said, “I am thrilled by this opportunity. Covid-19 transformed so many of our industries. No one imagined the impact that an unprecedented global pandemic would have on our education systems and businesses. Looking forward, it is important to find ways to partner with industries in need of a skilled and educated workforce to create pathways from learning to employment.”

Gillum said, “It is additionally important to provide the guidance necessary to navigate our education system. Upward Bound can increase the competitive potential our students bring to the table and help them emerge from the pandemic successfully. It is a very exciting time to be alive. I am proud to be a part of this effort, and I am excited to see what is to come.”

Learn more about the Upward Bound program.

Posted In: Institutional News