A self-described class clown, Maxwell Ravenell III was the kind of kid who often landed in detention, not on the honor roll. In fact, he admits he hovered near the bottom of his McKinley High School class academically.
Because his sister participated in the academically focused Upward Bound program at Buffalo State, one of eight federal TRIO programs created for disadvantaged students, he decided to join her the summers after his freshman and sophomore years, in 2004 and 2005, respectively.
He made an impression on Don Patterson, Buffalo State’s Upward Bound director, for being “rambunctious,” but also for where he ended up more than a decade later. In January, Ravenell returned to the Buffalo State campus as a University Police Department (UPD) officer. His career path and success, which also included working for the New York Department of Corrections, came in large part from his Upward Bound experience.
“Upward Bound was like a vacation, with a variety of kids who wanted to do more with their lives than just goofing off,” said Ravenell.
A defiant teen, Ravenell found his match in Patterson, a former professional boxer and current president of the New York State chapter of Golden Gloves of America Inc.
“I didn’t like authority, but if Don told me to do something, I would,” he said. “He pushed me to do better and do more.”
It’s young people like Ravenell who keep Patterson engaged in the job after 16 years.
"What’s rewarding is the growth I see in kids from the time they start with the program to when it ends,” said Patterson.
Previously, Patterson worked as a mental health specialist at Baker Victory Services Juvenile Group Homes and as a child care worker at Gateway Longview Youth and Family Service, among other positions.
He’s seen kids who have hit the proverbial rock bottom, kids society has given up on. Through Upward Bound, he’s had the opportunity to guide students at risk of dropping out of school or making other poor choices.
Every summer since 1986, Buffalo State’s Upward Bound program has welcomed a group ninth- through 12th-graders primarily from Lafayette, McKinley, and East high schools to campus for six weeks where they take core academic subjects from certified Buffalo public school teachers and live in the residence halls. It started with 78 students and has grown to 90 each summer.
The result? Ninety percent of participants attend college; several have enrolled at Buffalo State.
“I consider myself fortunate to be a part of a federal movement to level the playing field for disadvantaged youth through education,” Patterson said. “These students have dreams and aspirations just like anyone else. And Upward Bound helps enable them to reach those dreams by attending college.”
Patterson emphasized that there is no magic potion; it’s still the students’ responsibility to do the work.
“I tell the kids that my main concern is their effort, how much they are invested in their own future and making it happen.”
He’s kept up with several of his former Upward Bound students, ones like Ravenell who are making positive strides in their lives and finding fulfilling careers.
“Never did I think I would return to campus as a police officer,” Ravenell said. “I’m trying to give back. I see students making some of the same mistakes I did. I want to make a difference and help them as much as I can.”
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