Ellen Houston – Our Division. Our Stories.

Ellen Houston, She/Her

Director of Upward Bound Programs

About Me

With 20 years of experience in higher education, Ellen is currently Director of the Upward Bound Programs and the Upward Bound Math Science Program at the University of Nevada, Reno. She serves as project director for the four federally funded grants serving 246 first-generation, income-qualified students at eight target high schools in Washoe and Lyon counties. Her responsibilities include fiscal management of programs, compliance with federal laws and regulations, assessment, personnel administration, and collaboration with program stakeholders.

Prior to Upward Bound, she held the position of Assistant Director in the Center for Student Cultural Diversity. Ellen has also worked in the areas of University Alumni Relations and Intercollegiate Athletics.

Ellen lives in Sparks with her husband and two daughters. She spends what little free time she has on traveling, reading, and wake surfing at Lake Almanor. She also coaches her eldest daughter’s volleyball team.

Ellen Houston Photo


  • Master of Arts, Counseling and Educational Psychology, University of Nevada, Reno
  • Bachelor of Arts, Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno

Work History

  • Director, Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math and Science Programs, UNR, 2012-
  • Assistant Director/Counselor Coordinator, Center for Student Cultural Diversity, UNR, 2008-2012
  • Adjunct Faculty, TMCC, 2009-2011
  • Access Program Counselor, Student Success Services, UNR, 2004-2008
  • Alumni Program Manager, UNR, 2000-2004
  • Special Events Coordinator, Boys and Girls Club of Truckee Meadows, 1999-2000
  • Events Coordinator, Wolf Pack Intercollegiate Athletics, UNR, 1998-1999
  • Communication Specialist, Harrah’s Reno, 1996-1998

Awards & Activities

  • 2018 WESTOP Annual Conference Silent Auction Chair
  • Nevada WESTOP Chapter, Legislation and Fair Share Chair
  • Co-Chair, 38th Annual WESTOP Regional Conference, 2016
  • Multicultural Greek Council Advisor of the Year, 2011 & 2012
  • Advisor, Lambda Phi Xi Multicultural Sorority, 2010-Present
  • Block N Captain, Nevada Volleyball Alumni
  • Head Coach, St. Albert’s 5th Grade Volleyball

What aspect of your personality adds the most value to the world?

I think my passionate belief in social justice and educational equity motivates me to work very hard on behalf of the first-generation, income-qualified students in UB/UBMS. It is what those students go on to do that adds greater value to the world.

What characteristic do you most admire in others?

I really admire people that are patient and laid back, as I am neither of those things. I want things done right and completed quickly. I am a totally competitive and organized Type A personality.

If you could host a talk show, who would be your first guest?

I would love the opportunity to talk with Lin-Manuel Miranda. I admire that he is a visionary, creative genius with a demonstrated commitment to social justice, and yet at the same time he seems quirky, fun, and completely relatable. My daughters and I are obsessed with Hamilton. We know every word by heart and quote it to each other constantly. We have tickets for a performance in May, and we could not be more excited.

How do you make difficult decisions?

My natural inclination is to be a value-directed decision-maker who moves quickly. So, if the decision is a difficult one, I am mindful to take plenty of time to dispassionately weigh all possible outcomes. I also talk it over with a few people whose judgment I trust. In the end, I do what I think is best and accept responsibility for the consequences.

When have you seen your tenacity or resilience really pay off in a professional setting? What was the outcome?

In the 2016-2017 academic year, I co-authored five TRIO grants for the Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math Science competition. The guidelines were particularly rigorous and I felt so much pressure to keep the funding and our jobs. I have never worked that hard in my life. There were weeks where I barely slept, and I didn’t take a weekend off for months. I got up at 4 a.m. every morning on a UB college tour to write before spending a 15-hour day chaperoning students. In the end, all our continuing grants were funded for the next five years, and we were awarded a new Upward Bound Math Science grant. All that work was totally worth it, but I’m glad the grant competitions only happen every five years!

If you were to tell one person “Thank You” for helping me become the person I am today, who would it be and what did they do?

I thank Rita Escher all the time for hiring me as the Upward Bound Director. I had professional experience in educational equity programs, but I did not have any real TRIO experience. She took a chance on me, and for that, I am forever grateful. Rita also empowered me as a professional in a way I had not previously experienced. Over the past few years, I have become comfortable in my leadership style, learned not to sweat the small stuff, and gained confidence in my professional expertise. I credit much of that to Rita’s outstanding mentorship. Whenever I start to waver on something, I can always hear Rita telling me to, “Lean in!”

What is one important skill every person should have?

The ability to communicate effectively in writing.

What is the coolest thing you’re working on right now?

Building the Upward Bound Math Science program from scratch has been fun and challenging. It takes a huge amount of work to set-up an entire grant program in one year. It has been both difficult and exciting for the UB/UBMS staff to deal with all this change. Right now, we are working on how to accommodate the growth in our upcoming Summer Academy. We will have 110 high school students living on-campus for five weeks this summer.

This interview is part of a series entitled Our Division. Our Stories. that seeks to highlight some of the outstanding members of the Division of Student Services at the University of Nevada, Reno. For more information, please contact the Student Services Development and Engagement Committee