Faith St. Clair is learning how to solve crimes, but there’s no mystery in the role West Virginia University Upward Bound has played in her life.

WVU Upward Bound, a federally funded educational opportunity program, is designed to help high school students overcome academic, social and cultural barriers to earn a college degree. In the local area, three high schools qualify for participation: Preston, Clay-Battelle and Grafton.

Currently accepting applications for the 2014-2015 school year, Upward Bound provides free services to students who are the first in their families to earn a four-year degree, meet income-eligibility requirements and/or are considered academically at-risk by federal definitions.

Rising ninth and 10th graders are strongly encouraged to apply, but admission is open to any eligible student who attends one of the targeted high schools.

St. Clair, currently a junior at WVU studying criminology, joined Upward Bound in 2007 – her freshman year at Preston High School – and has stayed with the program ever since as a participant and volunteer.

Coming from a rural area and a tough home life, St. Clair doesn’t think she would have made it to college without the assistance of Upward Bound. She’s an independent student, paying her own way through school, and took full advantage of the programs throughout high school.

“I always wanted to go to college, but I didn’t know how I was going to get there,” St. Clair said. “College is a completely different world, so it helps to have the support Upward Bound gave me to find out how to pay for it, what to do and where to live.”

Club days, Saturday activities, tutoring, summer programs ? you name it, St. Clair did it. She never missed an activity in all four years of participation. Through these activities, Upward Bound provided her with information and support, she said.

Each month at school, there would be a club hour for students to get together and learn about financial aid, talk about things going on in their lives, improve confidence and reduce stress. Additionally, she received individualized tutoring, learned test-taking skills and was able to come to Morgantown one Saturday every month for various activities on the WVU campus.

“The best part was the sense of family you got,” St. Clair said. “You’re not as close during the school year, but during the summer program you live with everyone for six weeks; you get close. Those are lifelong friends. They’re a support group and they know what you’ve been through.”

Amongst St. Clair’s mentors in the program was Frances Bennett, WVU Upward Bound director, who has known her for seven years. Bennett has kept a close eye on St. Clair throughout that time by coaching her through academic and social obstacles.

“Upward Bound throws a life vest to kids who are drowning in the seas,” Bennett said. “And now Faith is throwing that life vest to current students.”

St. Clair hopes to one-day use her criminology background to work with students who come from tough situations and guide them toward the right path; her tenure as volunteer and mentor at Upward Bound has put her off to a good start.

Young adults age 14-24 are at a crucial time in their lives as they discover who they are. As a result, confidence wavers and issues can arise with body image, bullying and home-life conflicts. By volunteering with Upward Bound, St. Clair is helping students get through this complicated time in their lives and making a positive influence on them, both academically and socially.

“You get to know what the students are going through and you can mentor them through it,” St. Clair said. “Some of their home situations are bad and they don’t know how to handle it, or they have bad self-confidence. That’s something everybody needs to have: good self-confidence. That helps with your home life – if it’s bad, you’ll think it’s your fault, but you have to know that it’s not. Believe in yourself and live life to the fullest.”

A college-based program from TRiO called Student Support Services offers similar programs to motivate students to graduate college. This program is popular amongst Upward Bound alumni as they have the opportunity to keep a support system during their academic years; St. Clair is a participant with the WVU SSS program.

For more information on WVU Upward Bound, and to download and application for admission, visit



CONTACT: Frances Bennett, WVU Upward Bound

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