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Mary McLaughlin Celebrates 35 Years of Service

Mary McLaughlin, director of Berea College’s Upward Bound program, was honored by the college with a surprise recognition event on Saturday, Sept. 18, for her 35 years of leadership and service with the program.

Mary McLaughlin

The event took place at 2 p.m. in the Bruce-Trades Building on Upward Bound reunion day, when students currently enrolled in Upward Bound came to campus. In addition, former staff members and students, including students from McLaughlin’s first class 35 years ago, also attended. The program featured remarks by Berea College Provost Dave Porter and colleagues at Berea including CELTS (Center for Excellence in Learning Through Service) director Meta Mendel Reyes. “Mary is one of the reasons I came to Berea… she made me realize just what a special community Berea was,” Reyes commented during the plaque presentation. President Shinn also commended her “longevity” in a letter stating, “your programs are models for others to emulate, and your commitment to your student is evident in their love and respect for you.”

Students and alumni alike arrived to show that respect with their comments, poems, and speeches. Former student and now advisor to the President of the United States on youth issues, Hasan Davis stated, “everything I now do is motivated by the passion of Mary McLaughlin.” Students Alex Gibson and Stewart Stone joined those sentiments with an emotionally rousing original poem that equated McLaughlin to a mother bird encouraging its young to fly. McLaughlin was moved during the heartfelt readings and commented, “you are the most beautiful people in the world I love you all.”

Upward Bound is a national educational program funded by the U.S. Department of Education that helps young people in grades nine through twelve to prepare for higher education. The program provides tutoring, instruction, counseling, career orientation, and an opportunity to experience educational development and personal growth within a college setting. “Upward Bound changes lives and it changes mine every summer,” McLaughlin emphasized as reasons for her sustained dedication. Prior to Upward Bound, Berea College had its own program to help disadvantaged high school students prepare for college, called Project Torch Light.

The Berea College Upward Bound program now serves 85 participants each year in selected schools in the following eight south central Kentucky counties: Clinton, Laurel, Madison, McCreary, Pulaski, Rockcastle, Wayne, and Whitley.

Ninety-nine percent of the participants in the Berea program graduate from high school and last year 88 percent of the participants enrolled in college. Former participants have been placed in at least 30 different colleges throughout Kentucky and the surrounding states.

McLaughlin has had a role in Berea College's Upward Bound Program in every year except the first (1966), and has had a great influence on its development. It is now considered unique among programs due to its challenging interdisciplinary curriculum and the student involvement as tutor counselors and teachers. She has had a positive impact on hundreds of young people. Event organizer Dreama Gentry passionately reflected upon McLaughlin’s contribution stating “We wanted to do this because she just gives and gives and gives. She is like family to us.”

In addition to a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Berea, McLaughlin holds a master’s degree in counseling from Eastern Kentucky University.

Earlier this year, McLaughlin was recognized for her years of service to Upward Bound by the Southern Association of Educational Opportunity Programs and in 1998 received the Paul Luxmore Lifetime Achievement Award for professional excellence from the Kentucky Association of Educational Opportunity Programs.

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