#GEARUPWorks In Fort Dodge, Columbus Junction, Clinton and Davenport to Help Prepare Students Early for College, Career

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GEAR UP Iowa works closely with schools to help build a college-going culture and increase career awareness and readiness as students progress through middle school, onto high school and into post-secondary education (aided by the GEAR UP Iowa Scholarship that each GEAR UP Iowa student receives after graduating from their high school in the Class of 2020). For GEAR UP Iowa facilitator Nathan Svare, working closely with these students gives the opportunity to provide support to first-generation students who might not otherwise realize the importance of college (and college preparation) until later in high school. He shares how GEAR UP Iowa is personally meaningful to him and how that impacts his work with students in Davenport, Clinton, Columbus Junction and Fort Dodge schools.

GEAR UP Iowa is very important to me. As a first-generation student, I had various barriers to overcome on my way to success. I only started seriously thinking about college late in my junior year of high school. I did not participate in a college visit until my senior year. I only applied to one college. I did not take the ACT as seriously as I should. I did not spend nearly enough time pursing scholarships.

Given what I know now, I was lucky. I had tremendous support from teachers, coaches, and most importantly my family. For many first generation students, the barriers to college become so large that they do not go to college after high school graduation, let alone successfully earn their bachelor’s degree in four years. Many additional problems can stand in the way of student success: rising costs of college, lack of family support in pursuing a higher education or a lack of understanding the post-secondary system for applying to and affording college. It became clear to me that I wanted to assist students like me in overcoming those challenges to successfully earning a certificate or degree.

GEAR UP Iowa offers that opportunity to assist students in a positive way. As a facilitator, I work with school districts to make sure they are compliant with the GEAR UP Grant and that they are able to generate meaningful activities and services that encourage students to start thinking about life after middle school and high school.

We had many successes in our first year:

  • 65% of Davenport GEAR UP Iowa Students participated in one of the Iowa State University “College Going” sessions.
  • Additionally, over 50% of GEAR UP Iowa Students in Davenport participated in some college or career field trip.
  • Virtually all of our Columbus Junction students went to the Langwood High Ropes Course participating in both low-ropes and high-ropes activities designed to help build confidence in leadership.
  • Almost every student at Clinton Middle School participated in a college visit at Clinton Community College and Ashford University.
  • Students at McKinley, Roosevelt, and Wilson Middle Schools in Cedar Rapids met and spoke with filmmaker Jaye Fenderson after viewing her documentary on First Generation students.

As we move into the second year of GEAR UP Iowa in these districts, there are even more activities designed to help middle school students think more about college and career as they get ready to make the move to 9th grade and high school:

  • Clinton will be visiting the Chicago Science and Industry Museum to augment their learning in their science classes.
  • Columbus Junction will be working closely with Taylor Hills, a recent GUI Alumni, who will provide additional support and mentoring to the current GUI cohort.
  • Davenport is working closely with the Quad Cities Career Connections to provide their students with job shadowing and career fairs.
  • Fort Dodge is working to provide students with a daylong event to further develop students non-cognitive abilities.

Each year of the GEAR UP Iowa Cohort introduces new ideas and experiences to help students see their future possibilities and realize the importance of continuing their education after high school to reach their goals. I’m proud to be part of the team that brings them closer to their dreams.

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