Although she probably did not realize it until it happened, Norma Romero was a near lock for the position of director of the Loyola Marymount University (LMU) Upward Bound program almost from the outset.
“Once she expressed an interest in the position, I didn’t need to look any farther,” said Marshall Sauceda, Romero’s boss and the associate vice president for intercultural student affairs at LMU.
Romero was named the program’s first director October 15th. Through the university’s Upward Bound student outreach program, she will work with Westchester High School scholars who are from low-income families and would be the first generation of their families to attend college.
The aim is to unlock the academic potential in these students and prepare them for the rigors and benefits of college life, and to help them succeed beyond the confines of the nation’s colleges and universities.
LMU has received a federal grant of $1 million that Romero, who was once an Upward Bound tutor, co-wrote to fund the program.
“I am honored,” said Romero. “I also feel a huge sense of responsibility to be directing LMU’s first TRIO program I am fortunate to have tremendous campus and community support as I take on this exciting new venture.”
A creation of the United States Education Department, Upward Bound is part of the federal TRIO Programs, which include Talent Search, Student Support Services, Ronald McNair Post-Baccalaureate Program, and Upward Bound Math and Science.
This is not the first time that the educator has been the leader of an Upward Bound project. Romero served as the director of Upward Bound at East Los Angeles College, and later as the Upward Bound assistant director at Occidental College. In 2003, she became the first person at National Hispanic University in Oakland to direct the outreach project.
Prior to accepting her new position, Romero was the director of LMU’s Ethnic and Intercultural Studies Department.
“It makes sense,” said Romero, referring to LMU’s decision to establish an Upward Bound component at the university. “A great deal of our mission here involves social justice, so I look at Upward Bound as an extension of what LMU is all about.”
Sauceda, himself a graduate of the Upward Bound project as a high school student in the 1970s, noted that Romero’s familiarity with the student outreach project was one of the key reasons that she was chosen.
“This is an important new contribution to the Westchester community, and with the amount of experience and passion that she will bring to this exciting venture, Norma is the ideal candidate for the job,” Sauceda said.
During an interview in her third-floor office at the university, the educator discussed her plans for the outreach effort, her barometers for success and her history with Upward Bound.
Despite her extensive background in the program, Romero, who lives in Westchester, says that her selection as director came as a surprise.
“It never occurred to me that I would be chosen,” she said. “I was so busy helping to write the grant that I didn’t think about that, because this was not about me, it’s about the students.”
Other university colleagues also believe that Romero is an excellent choice to lead the academic outreach effort.
“Norma is someone who comes with a deep and broad experience in successfully implementing Upward Bound programs,” said Drew Furedi, LMU Family of Schools director. “It’s an opportunity to connect with students in a real way to show them that college is really the next logical step.”
LMU’s Upward Bound director is eager to get off to a relatively quick start, but she realizes that there are still a few details to be worked out.
“For me, it’s a matter of balancing the need to get up and running soon, but do it in a way that it builds a solid program,” Romero explained.
Fifty ninth- and tenth-graders from Westchester High will be recruited for the first crop of Upward Bound participants, to begin working with Romero and her staff next spring.
Calls to Westchester High administrators for comment went unreturned at Argonaut press time.
Upward Bound is but one of the academic outreach programs that LMU sponsors. For the last several years, the university has invited underrepresented female and minority students with an interest in mathematics and engineering to participate in the SECOP (Science and Engineering Community Outreach Program) program, where students undergo a rigorous curriculum and a simulated immersion into college life that is important to any outreach project.
Like the SECOP students, Upward Bound participants will also visit the LMU campus for hands-on instruction with various faculty members and tutors as part of the summer program.
A key component of the success of the outreach plan will be to retain students to complete the program and then continue on to college.
“We will be tracking them until their second year of college,” Romero confirmed. “Getting them to remain in the program and getting them admitted to college is one of our main goals.”
How to fill out forms for financial aid, access to various types of scholarships and working on college resumÈs and essays are additional components of the Upward Bound outreach.
While there are many ways to measure the eventual success of the program besides those mentioned, Romero has her own barometers.
“It will be a success for me if we are able to build community with the students, and for them to see beyond any limitations that they or anyone else has placed on them,” she said. “I want the Westchester program to be a model Upward Bound programÖ that’s my goal.”