NSights Blog


GEAR UP Ambassador Program Coordinator Emily Crawford looks at successes, challenges and opportunities in the University's Academic and Opportunity Support Programs

There are many barriers to accessing a higher education. For many students across the country, they will be the first in their families to attend college - leaving them to navigate those barriers on their own. For decades, programs like TRiO Scholars (known nationally as TRiO SSS), Upward Bound Programs, McNair Scholars and GEAR UP have been working diligently to help first-generation students overcome those barriers at our University and across the country. (The Pell Institute defines first-generation students as students whose parents did not complete a Bachelor's degree.)

Across the state of Nevada there are 29 TRiO programs. At the University we currently house two GEAR UP programs, three Upward Bound Classic programs, one Upward Bound Math and Science Program, one TRiO Scholars Program and one McNair Program. In recent years, the University has developed and established the First in the Pack program, in addition to these federal support programs, to serve the growing population of first generation students at the University of Nevada, Reno. Read more about support programs and their missions.

As a country, we have seen the importance of obtaining college degrees grow over the years. Along with that growth, challenges to obtaining a college degree have increased.

As the GEAR UP Program Coordinator, I have seen firsthand how concerns about college costs, food security, and diversity among many other challenges, can affect a student's belief in their ability to attend and succeed at a postsecondary institution. Our programs provide services to help our students better prepare for college, transition to college and adjust to college life, ultimately to graduate with a degree and enter the workforce.

Our programs in the Academic and Opportunity Support Programs Department have worked successfully with first generation students for more than 50 years on our campus. Each year close to 150 first-generation students from our programs graduate from the University.

With our successes come more challenges. Currently, there is federal legislation being proposed to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which threatens the existence of our programs. The PROSPER Act has defined many changes to our programs that could drastically affect our abilities to serve first generation students at the University.

Our students recently marched in Washington D.C. to prove that #TRiOWorks and #GEARUPWorks. They met with state leaders such as Senator Dean Heller, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, Congressperson Dina Titus, Congressperson Mark Amodei, Congressperson Jacky Rosen and Congressperson Ruben Kihuen to request their support of our programs and to encourage these stakeholders to support our students' successes. Nevertheless, we alone cannot fight this fight. Join us as we advocate for our students, providing access to postsecondary options.

As collegiate faculty we can work together to empower first-generation college students to seek a higher education and empower our first-generation students to achieve all that we know they can achieve. There are easy steps you can take now to support the first-generation students you interact with every day on our campus:

Together we can change the future of this country, by supporting our students as they achieve greatness.

Emily has been with the Nevada GEAR UP program for 9 years. She began as a GEAR UP student at Wooster High School in Reno, NV and then became a GEAR UP Alumni Leader, representing Nevada in Washington D.C. in 2014. Her passion for college access comes through in many parts of her life.

Emily Crawford