Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA), who created the legislation for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), paid a special visit to the University of Washington campus, Aug. 7, to meet with middle and high school students served by UW’s GEAR UP program.
The event, held in the Electrical Engineering Building, was attended by GEAR UP students and staff from the Toppenish, Sunnyside, Grandview and Wahluke school districts in Eastern Washington, as well as Washington State GEAR UP director Weiya Liang from Olympia.
GEAR UP is designed to increase the number of low-income middle and high school students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education. The UW Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity manages two large GEAR UP grants serving students in Eastern Washington and the Skagit Valley.
As he travels the country from Philadelphia, Congressman Fattah, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and related agencies, makes a priority to meet GEAR UP students to learn how the program is working. Prior to arriving at UW, he visited Boeing in Everett and was in California at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Northrop Grumman’s Space Park.
“Washington state has one of the very best state directors and staff, and between the partnership programs, state-run programs and the university partners, the statistics are just through the roof,” Fattah said. “High school graduation for GEAR UP kids is higher than the state-wide average. The interest in college is higher, the graduation from college is higher. Now it’s one of the first states actually tracking GEAR UP alums who are going into the work force and they’re performing statistically better than kids who didn’t come up through the GEAR UP program. If you want to understand the value of this program, you see it right here in this room today.”
In his remarks, Congressman Fattah reinforced the purpose of GEAR UP, imparting the message that it’s aimed to prepare the students for their future, and that college is an option for them. “I’m here because I’m interested in your future, your story,” Fattah said. He then fielded questions from the students for over 30 minutes.
“They were just super questions, just great questions,” Fattah said. “They’re questioning about how they can put themselves in a position to do important things in their lives. It’s one thing to create a program, it’s another thing to understand the purpose and get a sense from the young people who are participating. How it’s having an impact on them really informs my work in Washington.”
“It was wonderful to meet the person who actually wrote the legislation since we were one of the first institutions in the country to have a GEAR UP program,” Vice President for Minority Affairs and Vice Provost for Diversity Sheila Edwards Lange said. “It really builds on a legacy that was started by Millie Russell here because we had an early scholars program that was doing a lot of similar work in the Seattle public schools. Getting a GEAR UP grant allowed us to expand on that work.”
Meeting Congressman Fattah had a special impact on Alondra Quezedas, a GEAR UP student and recent graduate of Sunnyside High School. She immigrated to the United States when she was five and is the first of six children in her family to graduate from high school. She plans to attend community college in the fall, and eventually become a police officer.
“I feel like thanks to him having that vision and pursuing that vision, now I have the opportunity to follow my dreams,” Quezedas said.