Last summer, over 125 students and 50 educators from Washington State GEAR UP schools spent time on the University of Washington campus, exploring and learning how to plan, apply and prepare for college.
Facilitating these events was the GEAR UP Educator Development Initiative housed in the UW Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity and sponsored by Washington State GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), a federal-grant program that fosters college awareness and readiness for low-income middle and high school students.
Whether it was a professional development conference for middle and high school educators, a college exploration camp, or a high school leadership development program all three events shared a common goal: preparing students for success in college.
In June, over 50 teachers attended “Cultivating the Student Mindset for College Success.” This four-day institute explored strategies to help teach the skills, behaviors, beliefs and attitudes students need to be successful in college.
“In addition to academic knowledge, students need to develop ‘non-cognitive skills’ such as time management, networking, and organizational skills to be successful in postsecondary education and in life,” said GEAR UP EDI Director Roseann London. “Teachers had the opportunity to learn more about research in this area and to share the strategies they use in their classrooms and schools to develop these skills.”
Polo DeCano, a Ph.D. student in school psychology at the UW College of Education, led the session called, “A Roadmap for Cultivating the Experience of Resilience.” Drawing from his own research and a course that he teaches to UW undergraduates, Polo provided strategies to help students handle stress in high school and the new challenges they will face in college.
“The strategies discussed to assist students to de-stress, embrace adversity and approach life with a growth mindset was inspiring,” said Everett High School GEAR UP Graduation Specialist Alicia Naig. “We explored the opportunities to view stress and stressors as a part of the journey to your goal rather than a barrier.”
The institute also focused on the competitive admissions and scholarship process. Lead instructor and college admissions guru, Jennifer Schoen, shared a portfolio of six sample college applications including transcripts, essays, letters of recommendation, and activity lists. The institute culminated in a mock admissions committee simulation. Each participant had to evaluate the materials and make a case as to who should be admitted and why.
“The mock admissions committee activity provided an informative perspective on the admissions process and the variables put into play when selecting candidate,” said Naig. “Being able to better understand the college admissions process will help me guide students in creating marketable college essays and applications for their chosen schools.”
In July, 86 Washington State GEAR UP students representing 23 high schools attended GEAR UP, Get Ready! Students had the chance to live like a college student for four days by staying in the residence halls, taking college-style classes and learning essential information about college admissions and financial aid.
UW community partnerships provided many opportunities for students to explore the campus. They were able to visit the Planetarium, Health Sciences, UW School of Nursing Simulation and Learning Lab and UWTV. Sessions led by the UW Career Center (Making the Most of College: Build Your Career as You Go) and the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity (Club’s Going Up on Campus: Plug into RSO Community & Resources!) gave students an idea about the wealth of programs and services available in college.
An essential part of this program was the mentorship provided by current college students, noted London. Ten undergraduates came together to serve as mentors for the high school students.
“Many of the mentors had themselves been helped by others during their own path to college and they were eager to return the favor,” she said. “As near-peers, the GEAR UP students are able to ‘hear’ their advice about college and gain tips to overcome obstacles that might be in their way of pursuing a college degree. The high school students can relate to them and that is key.”
In August, over 40 GEAR UP students from across the state spent four days at UW for a Student Leadership Summit. The event was sponsored by Washington State GEAR UP and facilitated by Seeds Training, a nationally recognized student leadership training program. Participants engaged in leadership development activities, team building exercises and college planning activities with UW students.
The camp culminated with a symbolic board breaking activity. After receiving step-by-step instructions and practicing their form, each student broke a board with their hand as they were cheered on by their peers. The boards represented an obstacle holding them back. The lesson: if you can break through that board, you can break through anything.