GEAR UP Iowa is Iowa College Aid’s initiative to increase college readiness. An acronym standing for “Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs,” GEAR UP Iowa started work with a cohort of about 6,300 7th graders in the 2014-15 school year. The long-term program follows their progress through school, ending after their first year of college, at which point every GEAR UP student will receive a scholarship from Iowa College Aid.
Getting 7th graders to consider college can prove challenging, but thanks to GEAR UP facilitators like Flor Slowing and school coordinators at partner districts throughout Iowa, these students are getting an introduction to college that is more than conceptual. Slowing discusses recent activities that showed GEAR UP Iowa students what college can offer if they prepare and focus on their goals:
It is well documented the effect of academic achievement and early career planning in success in postsecondary education and long term economic well-being. For this reason, GEAR UP Iowa and their partner schools are planning activities to expose middle school students to college and career exploration.
Last month, 7th grade students from Storm Lake Middle School had the opportunity to visit Buena Vista University. During the visit they met with college advisors and learned about academic programs and financial aid options. Students were asked to picture themselves in college as they toured the campus and ate lunch in a campus dining hall. College advisors highlighted the importance of keeping good grades in high school, getting to know their school counselor and getting involved in community service and extracurricular activities. In addition, students had the opportunity to listen to the inspirational story of David Walker, Assistant Professor of Theatre. A first-generation student Walker encouraged students to ask questions and seek help as they start planning for their future careers. He asked students to reflect on their interests and talents when trying to choose a career or college degree.
Career planning activities are equally important for success in postsecondary education. GEAR UP Iowa students are starting to explore their interests and potential careers paths. Last month, 7th grade students from Perry visited VanKirk Career Academy to learn through hands-on activities about the following fields: welding, criminal justice computer design and health sciences. DMACC instructors shared their works experiences and encourage students to explore different careers so they can make an informed decision in the future.
Similar activities are taking place in GEAR UP school districts thoughout the state to encourage students, teachers and counselors to start career planning as early as middle schools in order to increase their success in postsecondary education.
For more information on GEAR UP Iowa, visit Iowa College Aid’s website.