University of Nevada, Reno student Gemma Beltran, is one of 28 GEAR Up alumni selected from across the country to participate in the national GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy. This group traveled to Washington, D.C., June 14 -21 where they experienced Capitol Hill and received leadership training to prepare them to advocate for GEAR UP and support the success of other students over the next 12 months.
GEAR UP stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs and has approximately 5,500 students and programs in 18 schools around the state of Nevada. It is a competitive U.S. Department of Education grant program that increases the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education by providing States and local community-education partnerships six-to-seven year grants to offer support services to high-poverty, middle and high schools.
"As a member of the GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy, I hope to become a strong Nevada State GEAR UP advocate," Beltran, a graduate of Wooster High School in Reno, said. "Through social media, events, and time spent with legislators, I will make great efforts to obtain support for the GEAR UP program. GEAR UP has impacted many students' lives, including my own. As a GEAR UP alumni, I am driven to help students like me gain college access." The Alumni Leadership Academy program is in its second year. Selection criteria includes academic record, essays, a recommendation, a GEAR UP program match, and personal qualities.
Jafeth Sanchez, with Nevada State GEAR UP Research and Evaluation in the University's College of Education Educational Leadership Department, was happy to recommend Beltran.
"Gemma is a student worker in our office who I've come to know really well," Sanchez said. "As a former GEAR UP student, she has regularly demonstrated an interest in supporting our current GEAR UP efforts. She is a hard worker and a first-generation student who seeks and identifies ways to give back to her former schools and community. Her participation in GUALA will not only contribute to her academic and professional development, but she'll also be able to enhance opportunities for our Nevada students and our statewide GEAR UP program."
"My mom and I immigrated to United States from the Philippines when I was in second grade and we were separated from my dad and brother for over a decade," Beltran said. "Growing up, my parents constantly encouraged me to go to college. However, I didn't know the necessary steps I needed to take in order to pursue my goal. GEAR UP helped me by showing me those steps. As a first-generation student, the program's assistance meant the world to me. GEAR UP gave me an opportunity; it has helped me pursue my dream of going to college."
Beltran graduated from Wooster High School in 2012 and earned more than $30,000 in scholarships, including a Nevada State GEAR UP scholarship. Upon enrolling at the University of Nevada, Reno, her immense gratitude in those who helped her enroll at the University led to her ongoing desire to regularly give back to others. During fall 2012, she initiated a school supplies drive and collected approximately 2,000 items; she took part of these supplies to her former elementary school in the Philippines, and distributed the other items to her former Reno elementary school, Libby Booth. Beltran even created a video (http://vimeo.com/72839862) documenting these efforts.
Beltran is a rising junior majoring in biology and hopes to pursue a doctor of medicine degree.
"My passion is to help underprivileged communities," Beltran said. "Upon my completion of my undergraduate degree, I want to use the skills I gain from the leadership program and my GUALA experience in order to remain an advocate for GEAR UP so that students who come from underprivileged communities have the support they need to attend and succeed in postsecondary education."
GEAR UP is a federally funded college access and success program serving approximately 700,000 low-income students across 43 states and three territories. GEAR UP programs serve students starting in seventh grade, and follow the students through high school graduation or their first year of postsecondary enrollment. GEAR UP programs are designed to meet local educational needs, and services often include academic tutoring, financial literacy, financial aid, such as FASFA completion, college tours, parent engagement programs, and more.
"The GEAR UP grant was first awarded in 2001; the current grant represents the third award for Nevada," Sanchez said. "The current grant is $21 million for our state with a one to one match requirement, so it's essentially $42 million. There are approximately 300 students attending the University from prior GEAR UP grants, and the fall-to-fall retention rate for the GEAR UP Class of 2012 is 74 percent. GEAR UP students at the University have consistently succeeded at similar academic rates to their counterparts, which is great because these GEAR UP students are first-generation students from disadvantaged communities. "
The Nevada State GEAR UP Program serves approximately 5,500 students; during 2014-2015 these students will be 8th- and 9th- graders in 18 middle schools throughout Nevada, as well as students from the University of Nevada, Reno Dean's Future Scholars Program. The GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy is a novice program to engage alumni in a national effort to educate lawmakers and the public about the value of investing in targeted college access and success services. Using personal stories, alumni leaders will articulate the impact GEAR UP had on their success in postsecondary education.