By Jennifer Dimas
June 4, 2018

For many high school students, spending the day with a two-time Grammy award-winning band would only be a dream; for Colorado State University Upward Bound students it was a reality. On their recent tour stop in Fort Collins, Ozomatli prepared 36 Upward Bound students for the unique experience of performing live in front of hundreds of fans at a premier music venue.

Members from Ozomatli, a band that plays Latin, hip-hop and rock music, worked with CSU Upward Bound students at a music workshop during the day on the song “Como Ves,” so they would be ready to play with the band at the evening show at Washington’s. Students were split into four different groups: dancers, singers, percussion players, and one instrumentalist who plays the flute.

The TRIO Upward Bound program, part of CSU’s Access Center, is funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The program focuses on identifying qualified youth who are low-income students, and those who would be the first in their families to go to college,  to support and encourage them in pursuit of post-secondary education. CSU staff assist high school students in developing academic, social, and leadership skills in order to prepare them for post-secondary enrollment, success and graduation.

“We’ve had Upward Bound at CSU since 1977, so we just celebrated our 40th anniversary,” said Sean Jaster, assistant director of Upward Bound. “As part of the program, we offer a lot of academic support. We have a rigorous academic residential summer program where students take supplemental classes that they get high school credit for. We do a lot of social capital building. We give students experiences they might not otherwise have, like with Ozomatli. We build their confidence through experiences like a ropes course and we hike a 14er. We take them on a week-long trip to volunteer at an animal shelter in Utah. We do a lot of things together to build community with each other so they can learn how to build support networks when they get to college.”

When Ozomatli, a band with roots in community and social activism, found out they would be playing at Washington’s, they requested to be connected with a youth organization. Greta Cornett, who handles booking and programming with the Bohemian Foundation and the Music District in Fort Collins, reached out to Jaster to connect the band with CSU Upward Bound students.

“From Ozomatli’s inception, we’ve always been socially active and community activists,” said bassist Wil-Dog Abers. “We started a cultural community center dedicated to the arts for inner-city youth in Los Angeles.  To raise money for art supplies, we put the band together. This is who we are. Now when we go out on tour, we have a reason to go out, because we don’t really look at it as us giving back, we get so much out of it. It really feeds our soul to give back.”

As part of the CSU Upward Bound program, Jaster says students are invited throughout the year to participate in experiences that involve risk and unknown outcomes, and then reflect on those experiences.

Anthony Cuevas, a freshman at Denver Center for International Studies at Montbello,  talked about how singing with the band would help him to overcome his fear of performing in front of people.

“I have stage fright and I’m going to actually go on stage with the band, so it will help my confidence,” said Cuevas.

Courtney Sabal, a junior at DCIS at Montbello, felt the experience would help her to grow.

“I’m going to sing a song and dance and I’ve never done anything like this before,” said Sabal. “I’ve never even been to a concert and I don’t know how to dance. Upward Bound is teaching me it’s okay to take risks. The program has taught me to not get distracted and to reach out to peers or teachers for help. It’s okay if I fall because there are people around me to help pick me up.”

Exceptional experience

Jaster felt the experience would not only introduce Upward Bound students to an exceptional cultural experience but also help them to have a greater sense of self-efficacy after engaging in a high-impact practice.

“This translates indirectly to their experience of entering college and the risks they are faced with as the first in their family to fill out the FAFSA or live on-campus and eat in a residence hall,” said Jaster. “A lot of our students were nervous about coming today and performing with the band on stage tonight. Doing something that involves risk and an unknown outcome is really empowering for students. It’s really about community building, risk taking, empowerment, and self-efficacy.”

See related stories from CSU’s Division of Enrollment and Access.

Jasalyn Reyes, junior at Greeley Central who played the flute with the band, feels Upward Bound is preparing her to succeed in college in a number of ways.

“Upward Bound prepares us not only to experience what it’s like to go to college, it helps us branch out and meet new people you wouldn’t meet otherwise,” said Reyes. “The program helps you with communication skills and social skills. It was so awesome to work with Ozomatli today. Upward Bound is amazing and I wouldn’t be experiencing this today without it.”

Tyler Anderson, junior at DCIS at Montbello, has found new interests while participating in the program.

“Upward Bound helps you explore yourself,” said Anderson. “I found out during the summer program that sign language was something I really enjoyed. You learn and adapt and develop your abilities. Working with Ozomatli today, I was out of my comfort zone at first. As soon as I started participating I got more comfortable and now I’m really interested in being involved with a band.”

Working together, Abers felt the band benefitted as much as the students did and he hopes they will be further inspired to participate in the arts.

“When we were youth, to have adults come and show that they cared about us, just means so much,” said Abers. “But what I think the youth doesn’t understand is what we get out of it – we get so much out of it as well. What I hope from today is that if they aren’t involved in the arts at all yet, maybe some of them will have some sort of inspiration to check it out. We have a short amount of time on this earth, and I think that art is really for everybody. All I can hope is that from today if they have some inspiration to be involved with the arts, that they take the next step to do that.”

Photography: John Eisele, CSU Photography

Video: Jason Russell, CSU Video

Design: Gretchen Menand, CSU Web Communications