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Press Release

Cal Poly’s Upward Bound Program Sends 100% of High School Graduates to College

A group of Upward Bound high school students pose for a photo seated on the steps of a downtown San Luis Obispo shopping location

Contact: Melissa Giddens

805-756-5128; [email protected]

Note to editors: Several students in Cal Poly’s Upward Bound program are available for interviews. Contact Melissa Giddens to schedule an interview.

SAN LUIS OBISPO — All of the high school seniors participating in Cal Poly’s Upward Bound program are graduating this month and planning to attend two- or four-year colleges and universities, including Cal Poly, several University of California campuses and Brown University.

Upward Bound is a federally funded outreach program within Cal Poly’s Student Affairs that provides free services to local high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The program, which Cal Poly has offered since 1981, supports students while they’re in high school, gives them a glimpse of what it’s like to attend a four-year university and helps inspire them to meet their higher education goals.

“We really take time to get to know these students, their goals, their dreams and their concerns,” Upward Bound Director Melissa Giddens said. “We help determine their next move — what is best for each individual student, whether that’s community college or a university. Having access to a prestigious university that’s right in their backyard makes higher education seem more approachable.”

High school students in Cal Poly’s Upward Bound program pose on campus in front of the Plant Conservatory
High school students in Cal Poly’s Upward Bound program pose for a group photo on campus near the university's Plant Conservatory.


Cal Poly is currently serving 104 students — the maximum the program can enroll — from high schools in Nipomo and Santa Maria. Students are supported through weekly workshops at the high schools, academic advising, supplemental weekend workshops, field trips around the state and a popular summer academy where about 40 students get to live on campus and take preparatory courses for the upcoming year.

Of the 104 students, 23 graduated this June from Nipomo, Pioneer Valley and Santa Maria high schools — and all are heading to college in the fall.

“They worked so hard, and it’s so rewarding to see the results,” Giddens said. “Our students are off to some amazing colleges and universities, and we are so proud!”

Sixty-five percent of the seniors are going straight to four-year universities, up from 56% last year. The remaining 35% will attend Allan Hancock College. Four of the high school graduates will attend Cal Poly. One student received a full-ride scholarship through the QuestBridge program and will attend Brown University.

“Upward Bound taught me so much about colleges and introduced me to more career options too,” said Gabriela Perez, a Pioneer Valley High School student heading to UC Santa Cruz in the fall. “My favorite part was the summer academy. It gave me a small insight into the college experience, and I met so many great people. Not only did I build good friendships with people from my school but also from other schools and mentors who helped me throughout my last two years of high school.”

Cal Poly’s program has two full-time staff members who work with students during the academic year and several student assistants who help with office tasks, events and field trips. The staff grows for the summer academy — Giddens hires six to eight instructors, six teaching assistants and five residential staff members. Most are Cal Poly undergraduate and graduate students or Upward Bound alumni attending other universities.

“There are so many ways that these students come back and support the community,” Giddens said. “They may come back for their master’s degree or come back to work here. I’m so impressed by our students.”

Most high school students enter the program in ninth or 10th grade. Cal Poly has received significant interest in the program this year, so students who apply for the program may be added to a waitlist. Learn more about the program and find application instructions at

Top photo: High school students in Cal Poly’s Upward Bound program pose on the steps of a shopping complex while exploring downtown San Luis Obispo. Of the 104 students in the program, 23 graduated this June from Nipomo, Pioneer Valley and Santa Maria high schools — and all are heading to college in the fall.