February 1, 2016
On Thursday, January 28, Nevada GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) hosted a state-wide professional development on the Nevada State College campus. More than 60 GEAR UP professionals from all over Nevada gathered at NSC to discuss strategies for improving GEAR UP initiatives around the state and learn how to better serve the students in the program. Sessions included strength/personality assessments, SWOT analyses, individual action plans, and family engagement workshops. The day ended with an awards ceremony, featuring certificates of achievement and a GEAR UP Champion Award.
This conference was the first time all Nevada GEAR UP professionals have been able to come together, and the NSC GEAR UP office was proud and honored to play host. NSC GEAR UP Ambassador Nicholas Mathews was one of the coordinators for this event. Mathews began his journey with GEAR UP as a student, and is now embracing his role as a leader in the program that so greatly impacted his life.
For Mathews, this educational program was a lifesaver in more ways than one. “As a student at Mojave High School in North Las Vegas, I saw students get into some pretty bad and dangerous situations,” says Mathews. “To be able to participate in GEAR UP was such a blessing to me.” Now, as NSC’s point person for this enlightening program, Mathews is sharing his positive experiences through GEAR UP with students in similar situations.
Over the years, Nevada State College has gained a reputation as a welcoming place for many first generation college students. One reason for that is the GEAR UP program, designed to increase the number of income-disadvantaged students who are prepared to enter and succeed in higher education. This federal program that provides six-year discretionary grants to states, including Nevada, as well as partnerships to provide community outreach services at disadvantaged middle and high schools.
“As a high school freshman, I received tutoring, support, and campus tours of UNLV, CSN, and NSC,” recalls Mathews. “I was very determined and had a goal of being one of the first black valedictorians at my high school. Being selected to work with GEAR UP definitely helped me reach my goals.” Mathews is now having that same positive effect on his own cohort of GEAR UP students.
GEAR UP’s goal is to provide continual academic support to first generation college-going students throughout their middle and high school years, preparing them to enter and succeed in college. Nevada State College’s GEAR UP program focuses on high school students and making them aware that college IS a possibility, even if they have never thought of it as an option. “The schools that I’m assigned to are near the Henderson area and have low-income, high-minority populations,” explains Mathews. “I visit the six high schools pretty regularly as I want the students to know who I am and feel comfortable with me. I want to open their eyes to possibilities, like mine were.”
Working with the GEAR UP student/parent involvement facilitators at each school, Mathews helps students realize their dreams and aspirations. Through a combination of classroom visits, assemblies, lunch rallies, and other outreach tools, he is excited about the progress he sees. “I think back to what has worked best for me,” he says. “I started a mentorship group at Las Vegas High School for young men and now I would really like to get a group started to teach parents about what we do…sort of a Parent University.”
According to Joanie Mares, currently the GEAR UP/SPIF (Student Parent Involvement Facilitator) at Chaparral High School, a student named Earl was someone she had worked with previously at Mack Middle School. “Before Earl met Mr. Mathews, he was traveling down a dangerous road. During the eighth grade, he was experiencing some rough times at home and was starting to lash out at school,” she recalls. “He was letting his grades slip, and getting in trouble with his friends every other week at Mack Middle School.
“After Mr. Mathews started to work with Earl through our After School GEAR UP Club, Earl started to focus on staying out of trouble and his grades improved instantly.”
She went on to say that Mathews helped Earl buckle down and focus on his academic and personal goals. “Before being introduced to him, Earl was in danger of not passing on to the 9th grade. Today Earl is a freshman at Chaparral High School and is in the process of trying out for the high school basketball team. He has managed to stay out of trouble, while maintaining mostly A’s and B’s in his classes. Earl has said that Mr. Mathews helped him to focus on improving himself and to stop giving into negative peer pressure.”
This academic year, NSC has approximately 20 students that are in college because of GEAR UP. By maintaining a 2.5 grade point average while taking a full credit load, students can take advantage of GEAR UP’s scholarships, which average $2,500 a year.
For GEAR UP Mentor and NSC student Brisa Perez, the program has been a miracle. “I have always dreamed that one day I will have a high-paying career, but being the eldest of five siblings and coming from a low income family, I found it impossible to ever go to college,” she comments. “The GEAR UP program was a huge blessing in my life. This program inspired me to look forward toward a bright future and motivated me to go to college no matter the circumstances. GEAR UP has helped me pay for school and helped me achieve my goal for one day becoming someone important in life.”
As for Mathews, GEAR UP continues to influence his personal, as well as his professional, life. This summer he had the opportunity to attend a weeklong GEAR UP alumni gathering in Washington, D.C., where he received professional development training and served as a team leader, even getting a chance to fine-tune his public speaking skills when he spoke at a Capitol Hill briefing.