October 13, 2017 at 8:33 pm

Barlag’s ‘Electrifying’ Upward Bound Class Helps Students Succeed

Barlag's Teaching Assistants are instrumental to the success of the program, shown here in a group talking with Barlag in their white lab coats

Barlag’s Teaching Assistants are instrumental to the success of the program.

by Kristin Distel

Dr. Becky Barlag and her teaching assistants led an exciting Upward Bound chemistry course and lab for area high school students over the summer.

In their lab sessions, students extracted DNA from a banana, tested beverages for electrical conductivity, examined food calorie content, and experimented with a variety of other chemical processes, interactions, and reactions. For Barlag and her undergraduate teaching assistants, part of the joy of the program is being able to learn alongside the students.

Barlag is an Associate Lecturer and Director of the Forensic Chemistry B.S. program and has been involved with Upward Bound for eight years.

Barlag’s Upward Bound students learned about a broad range of topics related to chemistry while also attending regular lectures and taking quizzes, a midterm, and a final exam.

Students in chemistry lab

“I like to choose topics that I might not necessarily use often in my Ohio University courses so that I also learn from the experience” Barlag says.

‘Hard to Say Who Benefits Most’

Director Kwabena Owusu-Kwarteng refers to the program and Barlag’s involvement in particular as “a phenomenal partnership,” one that benefits both the community and the OHIO students who serve as teaching assistants, tutors, and mentors to Upward Bound attendees.

“It’s hard to say who benefits most from Upward Bound—the high school students or the undergraduates,” Barlag says. “Both are rewarded.” She notes that the program gives OHIO students a chance to decide whether they want to teach, while also gaining valuable experience in the field of chemistry.

“I see these TAs as my colleagues, and that is how I refer to them,” Barlag says. “They run the study tables and help coordinate labs, among many other responsibilities. I couldn’t teach this class without them.”

TAs like Joseph Paterson, a senior in chemistry and applied math, describes working with students at study tables as one of the highlights of the program. “Working with them one-on-one is really rewarding,” he notes.

Barlag's students at work in the chemistry lab.

Barlag’s students at work in the chemistry lab.

‘Upward Bound Is So Necessary’

The high school students who attend Upward Bound apply to the program for a variety of reasons, but the common denominator between them is a desire to be better prepared for college studies—especially at OHIO, where many of them intend to apply.

Ashton Vance, a high school student from Meigs, notes that she applied to Upward Bound because it “offers students an opportunity to learn what college is really like.” Vance, who wants to attend OHIO for social work, notes that living on campus during the program was also an exciting benefit—a sentiment echoed by many of her Upward Bound classmates.


Barlag and three TAs, laughing

“It’s a fun summer experience where we get to meet new friends, stay in the dorms, and work with very supportive teachers,” says Britani Hash of River Valley. “I’ve made so many friends who I otherwise wouldn’t have known, and I’m getting a head start on college. Plus, it’s free!” Hash intends to apply to OHIO.

Katelin Ferguson of Meigs agrees: “It’s good to have this opportunity to experience college. It gives us a sense of independence, and it helps prepare us. This class even made me want to take chemistry in high school!” Like Hash, Ferguson hopes to attend OHIO.

Many students, like Ivan Reardon of Athens, ended up in the Upward Bound program because of the guidance and encouragement of local high school staff members.

“My principal suggested this program because it would provide such great preparation for college,” Richardson says. “I’m applying to OHIO next year for computer science technology,” he notes. “It’s good to have a foot in the door at an institution that has always been part of my life here in Athens. Upward Bound is so necessary.”

Rewarding, Valuable Experience for OHIO Students

OHIO student Elizabeth Skees, a junior in biochemistry, is one of many Upward Bound success stories. She herself took classes at OHIO through Upward Bound; this summer she served as a teaching assistant in Barlag’s chemistry course.

Students in chemistry lab

Skees notes that it is especially important to reach out to students while they are in high school in order to spark their interest in both science and higher education. “Reaching them at this age makes them want to go to school afterwards,” she explains. “Plus, I really like to helps those who like science,” she adds. “I decided that I wanted to be a teaching assistant for Upward Bound because teachers can make or break students’ interest in science.”

Bob Auber, a 2017 OHIO alum in biochemistry, concurs: “With our majors, we’re passing on knowledge constantly. It’s important to learn how to convey information in an understandable way.”

The Upward Bound students’ excitement helps keep the teaching assistants motivated, as well.

Emily Davis, a junior in chemistry, enjoys “seeing the light bulb come on” when the students begin to grasp a particularly tricky concept, or simply when they express how happy they are to be part of the program.

“These kids really want to learn,” she says. “They want to be here, and they’re willing to ask for help. Being able to help them understand is rewarding.”

Chani Ferrell, an OHIO senior in forensic chemistry, originally wanted to be a peer mentor. When she found out that she was too young for that position, she was thrilled to learn about the chance to serve as a teaching assistant with Upward Bound—an opportunity first mentioned to her by Dr. Barlag, with whom Ferrell had done previous work and outreach efforts.

“I volunteered back then with Upward Bound and just kept going each year,” Ferrell says. “It’s a fun way to spend the summer, and the kids are great.”

The Upward Bound students take a variety of classes during the summer, and part of the goal is to aim for interdisciplinarity—to help the students see how the various subjects in which they are enrolled inform one another. This, too, will help them prepare for college. Sarah Hill, a senior studying chemistry, says, “It’s great to see how they use this chemistry class in their other courses. For example, they take photos of their experiments in our lab for a computer tech class they’re taking, where their main project is to build a website that will host the photos.”


Appreciation for Barlag’s Diligent Work  

The teaching assistants and students alike continually point out that Barlag’s commitment to the program and to her students is the driving force behind the class’s success. Students perennially return to Barlag’s classes, even just to sit in on her lectures.

“Becky is an exceptional person, and she’s a great bridge between the university and the community,” says Owusu-Kwarteng. “She really shows her commitment by teaching for Upward Bound in addition to her own classes here at OHIO. She gives 110%, and the students know that she’s committed to them.”

Barlag has also made a concerted effort to become more familiar with the science curriculum at area schools so as to better understand the needs and experiences of her Upward Bound students.


Herself an OHIO alum, Barlag finds that the benefits of Upward Bound are reciprocal.

“Teaching Upward Bound has made me a better teacher,” she says.

Students working in chemistry lab

Acclimating to University Life

Ultimately, Barlag and her teaching assistants tailor the class and lab sessions to the primary goal of the Upward Bound program, captured in the program’s creed:

Upward Bound Student Creed:

As an Ohio University Upward Bound student I am committed to the goals and objectives set forth by the program. I will do my very best academically so that I am well prepared for my future. This means that I will:

  • Be on time for my classes and activities
  • Study hard
  • Listen so that I may learn, and
  • Have respect for myself, my peers, and all Upward Bound staff

I know that sometimes I will be faced with difficult challenges in my life, but I am NOT afraid and will NOT give up because I am determined to achieve academic success. I also know that I have the support of Upward Bound, my parents, and the community.

I will remember that having a positive attitude bring positive results in all aspects of my life. I will remember that being a GREAT student means that I strive for excellent grades and to expand my perspective of people, places, and ideas.

And lastly, I will remember that because I am COLLEGE BOUND, I am definitely UPWARD BOUND.

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