Community Connect
Office of the Vice President for Community Services

Institute for P-20 Initiatives

Gear Up

High school students 'GEAR UP' for college at UTSA

By Abel Gonzales and Laura Rushing

UTSA GEAR UP-2016 Summer Residential Camp participants complete a campus tour. Photo courtesy of George Deleon.

UTSA GEAR UP-2016 Summer Residential Camp participants complete a campus tour. Photo courtesy of George Deleon.

Gaining Early Awareness and Readi¬ness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) is a program designed by the U.S. Department of Education to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsec¬ondary education. Under the direction of the UTSA Institute for P-20 Initiatives, this program has been implemented as University Ready – GEAR UP and serves as the university partner to its local pro¬gram affiliate schools in the San Antonio Independent School District.

As an exciting addition to SAISD GEAR UP college readiness program¬ming, this academic year UTSA offered dual credit to its GEAR UP participants. Students are fulfilling their high school graduation requirements, while simul¬taneously gaining college course credits. This past semester, participating stu-dents were enrolled in “Economic Princi¬ples and Issues” at the UTSA Downtown Campus.

Dual credit GEAR UP students had the opportunity to experience top-tier higher education through cutting-edge academic resources and exceptional UTSA faculty, both challenging students to meet the standards of their college aged peers. To supplement classroom learning, students utilized an innova¬tive online program called MyEconLab, which is designed to break down the material given in class.

MyEconLab gives the students insight to the curriculum professors might have them use in the future. In addition to the students coming to campus, the GEAR UP staff provides support and advising to all dual credit students throughout the semester, making at least two contacts per week with each student enrolled in the course for academic coaching and support. The GEAR UP staff would also host “Saturday Study Sessions”, which further support dual credit students through comprehen¬sive material review in preparation for upcoming exams.

Students have been extremely vocal in sharing memorable experiences and lessons learned through the dual credit program. Fox Tech High School Senior Kajal Bhakta comments on what he has learned. “My experience in the dual cred¬it course has been wonderful! I enjoy how the class is taught around real-world and everyday scenarios. It helps with applying and memorizing the content. This class has truly taught me how to learn and teach myself since the profes¬sor focuses heavily on application of the material. Overall, my experience in the course has given me the confidence that I am college ready.” Jefferson High School Senior Joseph Sanchez shared, “The experience was something I didn’t expect to actually be an eye opener to a college experience. It has made me excited for what is to come next year.” Jasmine Mal¬donado, also a Senior at Jefferson High School stated, "So far, I have had a great experience with the help of the GEAR UP staff. I have learned that you can't take college courses as a joke. You have to be more serious about your work because it matters. It has also helped me know what to expect from college work and get me in the right mindset for school in the fall."

After completing GEAR UP dual cred¬it courses and graduating high school, students will be attending universities across the United States. GEAR UP staff will serve as a retention team, moni¬toring student progress and providing support where needed. Future GEAR UP activities will focus on exposing students to the different services they can take advantage of at their respective cam¬puses, as well as providing additional academic outreach support programming to ensure students persist and reach de¬gree completion. Each student will have an opportunity to communicate with the GEAR UP staff regularly regarding university life to ensure transitions are as smooth as possible. The ultimate end goal of all retention programming is de¬gree completion for all students.