The Meaning of Care Magazine

Nebraska Methodist College's Upward Bound Programs Help Students Chart a Course for the Future

Published: Aug. 29, 2023

Mary Palafox, left, an Upward Bound tutor and counselor, assists Burke High School sophomore Lisa D’Souza during a dissection lab at Nebraska Methodist College’s Upward Bound Summer Academy program.


Dalliya Conway
Dalliya Conway

Dalliya Conway, ASRT, RRT, always knew she wanted to go to college. She got that drive from her parents, who urged her and her sister to take their education seriously and succeed as first-generation college students.

After earning her associate degree from Nebraska Methodist College (NMC) in May, Conway began working as a registered respiratory therapist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center. She also plans to complete the last leg of her four-year respiratory therapy program, earning her bachelor’s degree at NMC next spring.

But her path to NMC and Children’s wasn’t always clear cut. A series of tragic and inspiring events while she was a student at Burke High School in Omaha cemented her desire to care for others.


“Everybody Needs a Champion”

When Conway began high school, in many ways she followed the lead of her older sister, Diamond. That included joining her in NMC’s Upward Bound college preparation program at the nearby St. Luke United Methodist Church Teen Center.

One of several federal TRIO programs that serve people with disadvantaged backgrounds, Upward Bound targets high school students who are first-generation college students and/or from low-income families. Thanks to U.S. Department of Education funding, NMC administers two Upward Bound programs in Omaha: a “classic” model for Burke students and one focusing on math and science skills for Benson High School students.

The broad goals are to help students graduate from high school and ultimately complete postsecondary education. But it doesn’t happen by chance. It takes dozens of NMC staff members, teachers and counselors working together to offer a diverse range of opportunities nearly year-round. Meanwhile, they’re guiding and encouraging students through what may be uncharted waters.

“That’s what Upward Bound does the best,” said Deb Carlson, PhD, president and CEO of NMC. “It’s a champion for these students. Everybody needs a champion, especially if you don’t have that support system or you’re a first-generation college student. This opens the doors for them, and that’s life changing.”


From left, Burke High School juniors Timothy Thang, Jonathan Black and Sostaine Nibigira explore properties of dry ice during a chemistry lab course as part of the Upward Bound Summer Academy program.


“It Is Possible”

Conway had just finished her freshman year at Burke when her family’s world was turned upside down. While swimming in a hotel pool, Diamond had a severe asthma attack. She went into cardiac arrest and suffered an anoxic brain injury that left her unable to walk or talk. In a time of uncertainty, the care Diamond received at Children’s left a lasting impression on her sister.

“I spent a lot of my time at the bedside while my sister was in the hospital,” Conway said. “I would see the providers come into the room and care for her, and respiratory care was the one area that kind of sparked my interest.”

As Conway continued high school, she took advantage of nearly all Upward Bound had to offer. Students’ experiences with the programs may include:

  • After-school programming such as tutoring, ACT test preparation, one-on-one mentoring, scholarship and financial aid application assistance, presentations on career options, and career advising.
  • Saturday College, a quarterly event that welcomes students to NMC for programs that touch on college and career preparation, and offers students new experiences like hearing from Black entrepreneurs or seeing a musical at the Orpheum Theater.
  • Summer Academy, a six-week program at NMC that offers students high school-level courses such as biology and calculus along with electives like guitar lessons, knitting, crocheting and book clubs. Students also participate in community service projects and visit a Midwestern city for a college tour and other activities.
  • Summer Bridge, which helps Upward Bound graduates build a foundation for the transition to college life by living on campus at NMC and taking college-level courses with the support of faculty, tutors, counselors and a resident assistant. Summer Bridge also connects students with internships so they can shadow professionals in their fields of interest.
Nebraska Methodist College Upward Bound
Marica White, an adjunct faculty member at Nebraska Methodist College who teaches biology and chemistry in the college’s Upward Bound programs, helps Burke sophomore Eyli Garrido dissect a rat during the Summer Academy program.

“A lot of students struggle with the idea that college is an option,” said Adrian Vega, director of NMC’s Upward Bound programs. “Especially because a lot of them are the first ones in their family to ever graduate and go to college. They already have a lot of barriers stacked against them, so part of what we do is make sure they understand that with hard work, dedication, our support and their commitment, it is possible.”

Conway took part in all but the Summer Bridge option. Just as important as the hands-on opportunities available was the support she received from staff members like LaTina Rencher, NMC’s assistant director for Upward Bound.

“Especially with my situation with my sister, high school was pretty hard,” Conway said. “She was supposed to be going through high school with me, and her absence changed a lot of things. There was a time when I didn’t want to be a part of anything. But with Upward Bound, they always made sure to ask me if I was OK and keep me involved in everything that they had going on.”

Rencher knows firsthand how important it is for students to have support in all forms. She faced many of their same challenges as a first-generation Black college student.

“It’s hard to keep it all together if you don’t feel like you have a space to fall apart in,” Rencher said. “I wanted to make sure that she knew that she always had a safe space. It’s the same across the board for my students. It’s essentially 99% students of color, and they all have different things they have to tackle – things on a communal or societal level.”


A Success Story

Upward Bound’s results speak for themselves. This spring, all 35 Burke and Benson seniors who took part in Upward Bound graduated from high school. Each of them also had plans to enroll in college or trade school, and they all will have their expenses covered by scholarships or financial aid.

Upward Bound doesn’t intentionally push students toward health care studies and careers, but Conway’s experiences with the program helped bring her interest in medicine into focus. She specifically remembers career exploration events at NMC where she learned more about fields including nursing, surgical technology and radiologic technology.

“They took us into the respiratory care lab one time, and that’s when I told myself, ‘This is what I want to do,’” she said. “I don’t think I would be doing respiratory care, and maybe not even be in health care, if it wasn’t for Upward Bound.”

From there, Conway never looked back. She received the NMC Upward Bound Scholarship for $1,000 each year in school, and she became an NMC ambassador, mentoring other students as they adjust to college life.

Now, as she begins her career caring for others and honoring her sister, she’s the latest success story from a pair of programs that promise to have many more.

“It really does fit Methodist’s mission of caring for and improving the community,” Dr. Carlson said. “We do this because it provides opportunities for students to succeed no matter what they do in life.”

Photos by Daniel Johnson

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About the Author

Patrick Smith, a content strategist for Methodist Health System, has over a decade of experience writing and editing for newspapers and other publications. He enjoys meeting new people and telling stories that highlight Methodist's mission to deliver The Meaning of Care.

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