September 30, 2011

OMA&D Receives New $3.96 Million GEAR UP Grant To Serve Low-Income Middle and High School Students

By Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity

The University of Washington Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity (OMA&D) has received a new $3.96 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to fund the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) that have served low-income middle and high school students in the Skagit and Yakima Valley regions of Washington State since 1998. The new grant also includes the addition of two school districts in the Columbia Basin.

GEAR UP is a college readiness program designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. The program begins serving students at the sixth or seventh-grade level through high school graduation or their first year of college.

The initial grant amount covers the first budget period through Sept. 25, 2012, but is anticipated to last 7 years and total approximately $28 million. GEAR UP requires a one-to-one cost share funding model which will make the total award value close to $56 million.

Led by principal investigator Enrique Morales, OMA&D Associate Vice President for Pre-College Access, Policy and Planning, the University of Washington will continue to manage the grant’s compliance, program operations, administration, and evaluation, but 75 percent of the funds go directly into sub-contracts with participating schools and partners to cover staffing, student support activities, school supplies and teacher professional development.

Loueta Johnson will continue to serve as University of Washington GEAR UP Director and handle the day-to-day operations of the program in Toppenish. The program is also guided by a participating schools’ Superintendent’s and Partner Board which meets quarterly.

GEAR UP serves 4,955 students in the following 14 school districts: Burlington-Edison, East Valley, Goldendale, Grandview, Granger, Mabton, Mt. Adams, Mt. Vernon, Royal, Sunnyside, Toppenish, Wahluke (Mattawa), Wapato and Zillah.

Each school served by GEAR UP has a free and reduced-lunch participation rate of over 80 percent, with some schools as high as 100 percent. Students in these areas have low academic achievement rates, high dropout rates, low graduation rates, and low college enrollment rates.

“In terms of low-income and poverty, these schools are amongst the highest in the nation,” Morales said. “So we’re happy to assist those students, but we’re also happy to expand the project to new districts and academic focus areas.”

Included in the grant’s expansion is a new Rural Initiative in STEM Education and Undergraduate Preparation (RISE UP) GEAR UP Partnership that is aimed to increase the percentage of students taking rigorous and challenging courses in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

The partnership will allow GEAR UP schools to expand its pre-science programs. For example, courses such as an introduction to the physical or general sciences will begin earlier in sixth grade and be followed by an introduction to engineering and biomedical sciences in high school. GEAR UP will also continue to work with Project Lead the Way, a STEM focused program that offers advanced courses for students.

“The important piece about this grant is its focus on STEM,” Morales said. “It’s our experience and hope that through these students’ participation in Project Lead the Way, many of them will have an applied experience that will lead them to having a greater sense of interest and participation in the advanced mathematics and science programs at their respective high schools.”

In addition to its focus on STEM, services offered under the grant will include a range of college readiness activities including information and assistance about financial aid, scholarships, admissions applications, SAT testing, financial planning, and exposure to campus visits and career exploration.

RISE UP GEAR UP higher education partners include UW, Yakima Valley College, Skagit Valley College, Columbia Basin College, Heritage University, Washington State University and Central Washington University. Community organizations involved in the partnership are Project Lead the Way; Boeing Aerospace; Microsoft; NASA; Museum of Flight; Pacific Science Center; LIGO; Mathematics, Engineering & Science Achievement (MESA); UW Biomedical Engineering; College Board; Yakama Indian Nation; and Credit Counseling.

For more information about GEAR UP, contact Morales at partida@uw.edu or 206-543-7206.

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