The UTPA GEAR UP program is making an impact not only in the Valley but in Washington D.C.

GEAR UP stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs and currently works with 22 high schools throughout the Valley. The UTPA GEAR UP mission is to increase high school graduation rates and have students enter and succeed in college.

Three high school students from across the Rio Grande Valley were honored at the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP)/GEAR UP Annual Conference in Washington D.C. on June 20. Among thirty students chosen nationwide, two UTPA GEAR UP students, Heraclio Gonzalez from Weslaco East High School, and Delfina Cedillo from Mission High School, were honored with the opportunity to participate in the NCCEP Youth Leadership Summit. It is considered a rare honor for one project to have two students selected to participate in this event.

During the conference, Youth Summit Scholars heard distinguished speakers such as Congressmen Chaka Fattah, political journalist Juan Williams, and inventor and author Chad Foster. Youth Leadership Summit sessions included topics such as overcoming obstacles and fears, leadership, and goal attainment.

Both Heraclio and Delfina sharpened their leadership skills and were empowered to take this knowledge back to their schools and communities. As part of the summit, Heraclio and Delfina collaborated with other students in creating a Summit Report which was designed to help administrators and educators discuss student success factors. In addition to being a Youth Summit Scholar, Heraclio was one of five students chosen to receive a scholarship to apply towards his college of choice.

When asked about what he learned from the conference, Heraclio stated, “I learned that we are all the same and have to continue to believe in our dreams and not let them go…I have a view of my future and I want to attend Texas A&M College Station and study engineering or science.”

During the NCCEP conference, various UTPA GEAR UP students and Action Council leaders from high schools across the Rio Grande Valley presented in a conference session regarding their GEAR UP involvement. These students discussed their various events, methods of delivery and success stories in the areas of Parental Involvement, Community Service, College Connection, Careers and Community and Academic Support. Session attendees were from GEAR UP programs across the nation and were impressed by the student’s knowledge, resourcefulness and commitment to the GEAR UP program.

Lazaro Leal, a UTPA GEAR UP student from Porter High School, was also honored at the NCCEP conference as being named Texas Instruments (TI) Insider of the Year. Lazaro won this award due to his consistent logging in and posting over two hundred questions and comments at the TI website. While in school, Lazaro received prizes from TI which included a $25 gift card, iTunes gift card, and a TI Nspire for a friend. On behalf of Texas Instruments, Lazaro received a $1,000 scholarship that will go towards his college education upon graduation from high school.

Finally, Janie Rodriguez, parent volunteer from Santa Rosa High School, was one of five parents honored with a “GEAR UP Parent of the Year Award.” Janie is a member of the “Las Platicas” GEAR UP group at Santa Rosa High School. “Las Platicas” is a group of parents who have been trained by the GEAR UP program to recruit other parents and inform them about educational information and opportunities. At the NCCEP conference, Janie and her counterpart discussed their involvement with “Football Friday’s” and how they go out in the stands to talk to parents about GEAR UP, upcoming meetings, and important educational information they need to know for their children. Janie was one of a handful of other Platicadoras (parent volunteer) who presented to a packed audience discussing the Parental Involvement side of GEAR UP. When asked about what message Janie would like to share with parents, she stated “… parents should get more involved with their kids and find out what their future goals are and help guide them.” Dr. Martha Cantu, UTPA GEAR UP Director presented to grant administrators from around the country on federal grant implementation best practices and shared, “Preparing students for post-secondary success is a collaborative effort between school districts and post secondary institutions informing students and their families about their options and supporting them every step of the way!”

The UTPA GEAR UP program was strongly represented in Washington D.C. and continues to be considered a reputable program. Congratulations to all of the UTPA GEAR UP students, parents and staff for their continuous commitment to educational success. Avanzando Junots: GEARing UP for College-Together!