APSU's Tri-County Upward Bound empowers students for college success

Houston, Stewart and Cheatham county high schoolers forge pathways into higher education

Clarksville, TN (07/14/2023) — School may be out for summer, but Tri-County Upward Bound (TCUB) students from Houston, Cheatham and Stewart county high schools recently spent six weeks living at Austin Peay State University (APSU) and taking classes to prepare for the college experience.

APSU has provided the free program since 1998 through federal grant funding, and it supports low-income or first-generation college students. From core subjects like math to electives like 3D printing, there are plenty of opportunities to learn.

"Many of our students have not experienced things outside of their communities," said Melissa Conwell, director of Tri-County Upward Bound. "The experience of being away from their parents and their family for a long time is significant, and they gain that sense of independence and responsibility as college students."

Conwell said the program is designed to treat participants like college students, which means they live in Austin Peay's residence halls and choose their class schedules.

One of the more popular course offerings is 3D printing - a recent addition that allows students to explore computer-aided design (CAD). Blue Tinsley, an academic coordinator for TCUB, began teaching the class in 2022, shortly after graduating from APSU.

"When I originally came up with this, a big goal was to encourage students to get into STEAM - science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics," he said. "I want to do that by getting them excited about it and showing them how to do CAD modeling."

Tinsley spent the summer helping students learn to use Tinkercad, an entry-level design program, to create various projects using 3D printers.

"I really like the 3D printing class," said Christian Traylor, a rising junior at Christian County High School. "I heard about [TCUB] through my brother because he went to it, and it's been great. I'm excited to build [our final 3D printing project]."

Traylor and his classmates worked together to create an "infinite city" for their final project, which will be unveiled in the fall during one of TCUB's Saturday sessions.

"The way the infinite city works is that each student designs their own building to go on a base," Tinsley said. "LEDs are installed, and they also have an opportunity to do soldering and electronics. All the buildings are assembled into a large grid, so it looks like a big city."

Tinsley said he enjoys watching students grow more comfortable with CAD throughout the summer and discovered a passion for teaching last year as a result.

"I think my favorite thing is that moment when it clicks with them," he said. "Either when they realize how the 3D printer works and how to slice their models, or they find a design online that excites them if they're excited about something and want to take it another step, I try and give them that extra free time."

Tinsley isn't the only instructor involved with TCUB. High school teachers from multiple local school districts volunteer to support the program, and APSU students with at least 15 upper-division credit hours in their subject area can also lead classes.

Senior education major Mikayla Filkins spent the last two years teaching physics and fitness through TCUB and said the program has improved her confidence as an instructor.

"I wanted to get some experience teaching before I finished my degree so I could make sure it was the right fit for me," she said, noting that she was previously a physics major for two years. "It's also been a great way to stay involved with physics even though it's not my major anymore."

Filkins plans to teach middle school math after graduating from Austin Peay, and encouraged other students interested in teaching to get involved with TCUB.

"I'm amazed at how involved the students will get if you're just excited about what you're teaching them," she said. "I work with all kinds of students - most of the ones in my class last year didn't want to take physics, but they ended up really liking it by the end of the year."

Brodie Capps, a rising sophomore at Cheatham County High School, said he was excited to start TCUB after the program visited his high school in January - but he gained more from the experience than he expected.

"Everyone here has been really chill, and spending some time away from home is fun," he said. "I also learned a lot about writing techniques and how to use different calculators to help with different kinds of math."

Conwell said TCUB is designed to help students learn several new concepts over the summer so they can apply them during the school year.

"We'll have students take chemistry, for example, and it's a five-week intro that gives them the basic building blocks and foundations," she said. "In September, I'll meet with the students and ask how they're doing, and every single year somebody says it's going great because everything they're covering in chemistry, they've already learned. It's a huge confidence booster."

Phillip Lawson, a rising junior at Stewart County High School, said TCUB has helped him succeed in the classroom since he graduated from middle school. He said this year's calculus class was among the most impactful.

"I've been doing this for the last three years," he said. "It's been a lot of fun, plus it's been helping me throughout high school. And we don't just stay on campus - we go on trips on Fridays to places like Beech Bend Amusement Park and the local movie theater, so I'd say that's been the most fun."

For more information about Tri-County Upward Bound, visit https://www.apsu.edu/tcub.

Media Attachments

Stewart County High School student Semeria Eyler works on a 3D printing project during APSU's Tri-County Upward Bound program.

Blue Tinsley, an academic coordinator for APSU's Tri-County Upward Bound program, assists students during his 3D printing class.