Students from Mercer County Community College’s (MCCC) Upward Bound, an educational program for Trenton high school students, shared what they learned to cap off the program’s summer enrichment courses earlier this month. Students also showcased their knowledge of presenting through digital platforms and, for the first time in program history Upward Bound’s summer courses, were run entirely virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“When we first found out we were going virtual we started pulling our hair out,” said Upward Bound Director Stacy Denton. “I must say this was one of our best summers ever. We had some amazing instructors and students, and I just want to thank everyone for their hard work.

This year the Upward Bound programming included STEM and language courses as well as seminars on personal finance. Also, MCCC and Upward Bound partnered with Princeton University’s Materials Academy (PUMA) to teach students about developing their own apps, which they used to showcase their work.

“What caught my eye was self-healing plastic,” said Juan Lavarreda, who also attended Upward Bound’s program last summer. Following a three-week course this summer, Lavarreda crafted a mobile app that serves as an introduction to the field of regenerative polymers, complete with photos, charts and text on the subject.

“If plastic were to be self-healing it would repair like organic material,” Lavarreda said. “It would regrow and wouldn’t become waste.

Axsel Salguero, another of Upward Bound’s return students, focused his work on robotics. “We received a spherical robot and did some coding to control it. We learned about dry programming, raw motors and more.”

Salguero, who plans on majoring in game design in college, said that this year the summer program required a lot of motivation to complete. Though the students could collaborate via video conferences, it was entirely different from working together in the same labs.

“We had to learn things off the bat, without any real background on the subject,” Salguero said.

For students like Cara Carabajo, who graduated high school this spring, Upward Bound provided a primer on fiscal responsibility.

“I’m going to college in the fall, so becoming financially saavy is important,” Carabajo said. Carabjao noted that she refuses to saddle herself with student debt and is excited to put all she learned about keeping minimal expenses to use.

Students were also invited to take a work study course. By the end of the summer, students mastered the elevator pitch, wrote an updated resume, learned networking skills and opened professional social media pages to prepare them to look for employment early on.

All of this was accomplished even as students dealt with power outages in the final week of class due to tropical storm Isaias.

“I am extremely proud of you and the quality work you put forth this summer,” Denton said. “You showed perseverance, grit, and that you care about your education.”

To learn more about MCCC’s TRiO Upward Bound program, visit

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