February 22, 2021

VINCENNES, Ind. – The courage to begin a journey toward a dream coupled with a strong determination can lead a person to achieve great things. Such is the case is with Hunter Wilder, a student in Vincennes University’s Upward Bound program.

He aimed high and has turned his dream into reality. Wilder will start college at an Ivy League institution later this year.

"Ambition has taken me a lot further than smarts in my life,” Wilder said. “I’m very ambitious and I like to aim big.”

The Evansville Harrison High School senior hit the bull’s-eye when he targeted the Ivy League. He has been accepted into prestigious Columbia University in New York City.

Through VU and Upward Bound, Wilder has already experienced the college environment.

VU’s Upward Bound services are designed to assist high school students that meet first-generation college student guidelines and or income guidelines with college and career exploration, advanced academic classes, study sessions, financial literacy, test preparation, community service, and cultural awareness. 

The program was life-changing for Wilder. He encourages other students to be a part of Upward Bound.

“Coming into high school, I was pretty shy and introverted,” he said. “I didn’t do much other than working on classwork. I made the choice to go out and do something else. Upward Bound was the opportunity to do that. I have benefited more from Upward Bound than any other extracurricular I’ve done. Upward Bound has provided me with the experience of being a lot more independent. Upward Bound showed me that I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and have more fun during high school, and not just be a bookworm.”

VU Upward Bound Director Lisa Spivey says, “Hunter is a very high achiever, so he deserves all the credit for being accepted into an Ivy League institution. In addition to being a well-rounded student, he has excellent grades and SAT scores. He is extremely motivated, and his love of learning is quite evident. During the 2019 Upward Bound Olympiad, Hunter was on the Vincennes University quiz bowl team, which won first place. He has been on many trips with Upward Bound, and no matter where he is, he soaks in the learning experience. He has displayed an avid interest in art museums, science museums, history museums, and theater. He has an exceptional talent for math and science.”

In the summer, the program hosts a six-week residential experience on the Vincennes campus where students live in a residence hall with other Upward Bound students from 12 area high schools, attend classes, and participate in social and cultural activities.

“It’s a really great experience being able to go up to Vincennes over the summer, live there and get to know a bunch of people who are similar to yourself and very different from yourself, making friends, and having a lot more experiences,” Wilder said. “It has definitely made my life better than I think it would have been without it.”

Students who successfully complete the summer program have the opportunity to visit a larger city for a couple of days. While there, students visit science museums, art museums, theaters, zoos, aquariums, and a variety of other cultural events. Once Upward Bound students enter college, they are encouraged to further participate in a TRIO Student Support Services program. 

“The opportunity to interact with a diverse group of students on a college campus is so valuable,” Spivey said. “The Upward Bound students form strong friendships and gain a strong support system throughout their time in the program.”

Hunter’s mother, Amy Wilder, believes Wilder is heading to Columbia better prepared due to his experiences and involvement with Upward Bound. 

“Hunter has really enjoyed Upward Bound and has grown so much throughout high school because of it,” she said. “He has friends he has met through Upward Bound that he has remained connected with. He is getting the out-of-the-box experiences that he wouldn’t really have otherwise gotten and that has definitely been beneficial to him. The six weeks on campus really gets them ready for college. I feel like that is going to give him a foundation to know what it is like to live on campus and be away from home.”

At Columbia, Wilder plans to major in Physics and expects to graduate debt-free. His aspirations include earning a Ph.D. and staying in academia with the desire to conduct research in the field of Physics.

“Hunter is extremely intelligent, but is very humble about his abilities,” Spivey said. “He gets along very well with other students and is very well-liked by his peers. There is no doubt that he will excel at Columbia University.”

TRIO programs like Upward Bound give students exposure to a wide variety of experiences, and this has a big impact on motivation to finish a postsecondary degree. VU’s COPE and Experience VU programs are also designed to help students complete a postsecondary degree. VU also has two other TRIO programs for middle and high school students, which are Educational Talent Search and Project ASPIREE.