Learning Leadership Skills and Getting a Leg Up, Thanks to GEAR UP Iowa

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Earlier this year, GEAR UP Iowa held the first GEAR UP Iowa Student Summit at Grand View University in Des Moines, IA. The four-day event gave students from GEAR UP Iowa’s 12 partner school districts a chance to meet other students, discuss leadership skills and build the tools that will make them crucial partners in change bringing a college-going culture to their high schools (plus, it was fun!).

Alan Feirer, a leadership trainer and organizational development consultant, spent a day working with students, helping them realize leadership opportunities and arming them with the tools to apply those skills on a day-to-day basis. As we continue our recognition of #NationalGEARUPWeek, Feirer reflects on the importance of GEAR UP and the way that the program allows schools to help students take advantage of their chances to become leaders during high school and beyond in their education and life.


My mother was a teen mom, and back in 1968, that circumstance forced her into an early marriage to my father, who was a substance abuser. They graduated high school, but college had to wait.

Eventually, both of them got college degrees, and my mom has pursued two (and completed one) advanced degrees! She just retired from her third profession. All three professions involved giving back; she was a substance abuse prevention coordinator, a non-profit director (for Head Start), and a Lutheran pastor.

The biggest lesson for me? Second chances are there for everyone, and they’re important to take. It’s true that my mom could have stayed married to my dad and spent her life working at a grocery store. There’s no shame in that; we need grocery store clerks. But her gifts, combined with her college degrees, opened doors for her to live a fulfilling life that changed (and saved) the lives of others.

GEAR UP Iowa didn’t help my mom; it wasn’t on option for her. But you – you’ve got a headstart, a bonus, a leg up — if you want to make a difference in your life, and in the lives of others, there’s a whole team of people ready to work with you for that.