Keene State sophomore Doug Dombrowik has contributed through a program that helps students who otherwise wouldn’t have access to college.
By Stuart Kaufman
While looking for a job this summer, Keene State College sophomore Doug Dombrowik got more than he bargained for when he stumbled upon an ad for a tutor/counselor position on the college’s website. Little did he know the job would turn out to be a life-changing experience.
The ad was placed by the Keene State’s Upward Bound program, a federally funded, grant-driven program that addresses the problems of poverty through education. Begun nationally in 1965 during the Johnson administration’s War on Poverty, the Upward Bound program has been on the Keene State campus since 1974. Program director Alan Glotzer said the idea was “to take early high-school-aged students from low-income families and over a period of years prepare them for college.”
“This job has been a lot more than I anticipated,” Dombrowik said. “I never thought I’d be teaching my own class.”
In addition to teaching a sociology class, Dombrowik, a sociology/English major, also tutors students in writing and geometry. “The students all want to be here. They see it as a great opportunity and a privilege,” he said.
Upward Bound serves 80 students from eight Keene-area high schools. The six-week residential summer program, which concludes August 6, not only offers a broad-based list of academic courses but also social, physical and cultural activities. Staff members follow up with the students’ progress throughout the school year.
“We interview twice as many students as we can accept,” Glotzer said. “We have a scoring system, and the top students are admitted into the program.”
Those students fortunate enough to make the grade greatly appreciate what Upward Bound has done for them.
“I felt I needed to work on my grades so I could get into college, and Upward Bound has certainly done that,” said Michael Pianka, a standout junior high-jump athlete from Springfield (Vermont) High. “When I returned to school last year, I was ahead in my math class because I was already familiar with the material.”
For its summer staff, Upward Bound has several high school teachers, several recent college grads who serve as residential counselors, and a handful of undergrads like Dombrowik in the role of tutor/counselor.
“We interviewed Doug and thought he’d be a great role model,” said Glotzer. “We look for well-rounded individuals who can expose our students to things they normally wouldn’t experience in their high school curriculum.”
Dombrowik puts in a long day. He gets up every morning at 6 a.m. to train with many of the talented athletes who are a part of the program. On the weekends, the students are divided into groups for excursions that include visits to different college campuses in the region.
Learning takes many forms in the Upward Bound program. Beyond their intellectual advances in the classroom, students enhance their social skills by living in a dorm environment or participating in a community project.
“I like how everyone is close-knit and together,” said Molly Smith, who just completed her freshman year at Fall Mountain Regional. “You can be yourself and not be afraid of being yourself.”
When it comes to gauging the success of the program, the numbers speak for themselves. According to Glotzer, more than 90 percent of Upward Bound graduates go on to college.
Dombrowik says the most amazing transformation comes in the students’ self-confidence. “A lot of these students are so smart and athletically gifted, but they don’t see it in themselves,” he said. “It’s important to notice them, talk to them, and give them the confidence they might be lacking.
“Sometimes, due to their background, these students are missing supportive role models. It means a lot to them if you can look them in the eye and say, ‘You can do this. There’s no reason why you can’t succeed and set great expectations for yourself.’ ”
Stuart Kaufman is the sports information director at Keene State College.