Students attend SCSU through GEAR UP

Hunter Lyle – Reporter

After seven years of consistent college preparations, GEAR UP students are on campus for their first year of enrollment.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s website, the GEAR UP program, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is a grant that aims to help, support, and prepare students for college who might not have the chance to attend without the program.

GEAR UP was originally designed to help high-risk and vulnerable youth in the inner cities, said Gear Up New Haven Director Joy Fopiano. Eventually, it expanded to cover more rural areas because people in the Smokey Mountains, or Arizona, or on a farm in Iowa, may be equally but differently disadvantaged to attend college.

“It’s not just having good grades,” said Fopiano, “it’s having the mentality that college is possible and college is going to be in your future.”

The Connecticut program works through three cohort GEAR UP programs, one in Waterbury, one in East Hartford, and one in New Haven, said Fopiano, from each cohort, ten schools are selected.

According to professor Deb Risisky, who is involved with the GEAR UP New Haven Project, the ten schools from the New Haven cohort are Augusta Lewis Troup School, Brennan Rogers School of Communications and Media, Celentano Biotech, Health and Medical Magnet School, King Robinson Interdistrict Magnet School, Lincoln Bassett School, LW Beecher Museum School of Arts and Sciences, Mauro Sheriden Science, Technology and Communications School, Wexler Grant School, Hill Central School, and Columbus Family Academy.

The New Haven cohort started with 335 GEAR UP seventh graders, 75 of which decided to attend Southern, said Fopiano. The program starts preparing students in the seventh grade for college and follows the same cohort of students until they graduate high school, she said.

“Through GEAR UP, we work to prepare students academically, and socially and emotionally as well to not only get into college,” said Fopiano, “but to have the tools to be successful when you arrive.”

The GEAR UP program formed a sense of community, said freshman, and music major Anisha Santiago, between the students from other school, the professors and administration.

“I learned how to be more open,” said Santiago. “I was a very shy person before GEAR UP, and that changed with the help of, not only my friends I met there, but the counselors who were really cool with us.”

During the summer semester, the students take classes five days a week to help prepare them for their next year of schooling, said Fopiano. When the students entered high school, she said they were given the opportunity to take college course and earn college credits.

“During my sophomore year [of high school], they started to offer actual college classes,” said freshman, and communication major Alexsia Udeokoro Nazario. “That was a big thing because now I get to register with the sophomores. I came to Southern with 15 credits because of GEAR UP.”

Partnered with New Haven, Southern’s GEAR UP program, Fopiano said she was able to provide resources, such as financial aid, transportation and catered food to students
in order to help them graduate and enter post- secondary education.

If it was not for GEAR UP, college probably would not have been an option, said Santiago, a first-generation student. She said between the paper work and the cost of an education, it would have been difficult.

“The most powerful, and meaningful that I have done in my professional career, has been the privilege of working with these students,” said Fopiano. “Seeing these students flourish, has really been the privilege of my life.”

Photo Credit: Hunter Lyle



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