Today, June 14, Person High School (PHS) senior Brandon Bumpass will walk across the stage and receive his high school diploma, and then head off to Washington, D.C., where he will take part in a week-long leadership training event as the first student from North Carolina to be selected as a participant in the national GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy (GUALA).
GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is a national program funded by the U.S. Department of Education that provides college access services to middle and high school students, and was first implemented in Person County Schools (PCS) last year. The program currently serves seventh- and eighth-grade students at Northern Middle School (NMS) and seniors at PHS.
Bumpass' involvement with the program began last year, during his junior year of high school. As part of his Peer Group Connection (PGC) class at PHS through which he served as a mentor to incoming freshmen, he also worked weekly with GEAR UP at NMS to mentor seventh-grade students. That's where he met GEAR UP Family and Community Facilitator Kelly Woody.
Woody told The C-T in a recent interview that Bumpass was one of the students in the PGC program that stood out to the GEAR UP coordinators because he was “very conscientious” about doing what he was asked to do and seeking opportunities to work with students. So the GEAR UP coordinators targeted Bumpass to serve as one of 13 GEAR UP ambassador this year, promoting the program to seniors and upcoming seniors.
“I've become a better leader,” Bumpass said of his leadership experiences with GEAR UP. “I've always liked helping people, and I think I know how to do that better now.”
Not only has Bumpass helped others through GEAR UP, but he has realized the benefits of the program in his own life. Though he always knew he wanted to go to college, Bumpass said he didn't know what to do to get to that point. GEAR UP helped direct him through the process of submitting applications and applying for scholarships, and Bumpass will be attending the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNC-G) in the fall.
With his newfound knowledge about the college application process, Bumpass was able to help his peers, and said he was always asking people what their plans after high school were and if they knew about various opportunities. He also offers advice to his younger sister, who is a rising sophomore at PHS.
Over the next year, Bumpass will serve in an even greater leadership capacity with GEAR UP through GUALA, a “12-month program designed to train and engage GEAR UP alumni in advocacy and leadership, and work toward creating positive change in education policy for their younger peers,” according to the GEAR UP website.
Bumpass was one of 30 students from across the country chosen to participate in GUALA this year, from May 2014-May 2015. The program will focus on peer outreach, social media activism, public speaking and issue advocacy. Bumpass will be working with PCS GEAR UP throughout the next year, helping with activities and serving as a motivational speaker. Connecting with members of Congress will be another aspect of his duties.
The training he is undergoing in Washington, D.C. over the next week will help prepare him for his responsibilities as a GEAR UP alumni leader, and will include opportunities to speak with members of Congress. Woody said First Lady Michelle Obama had also been invited to be part of the training week, but did not know if she would be attending.
Bumpass became interested in being part of GUALA after hearing the first class speak at a GEAR UP youth conference in San Francisco he attended last year with PCS GEAR UP coordinators and two other students. He met a couple of the GUALA participants and maintained communication with them throughout the year.
Woody said when the applications for GUALA became available this year, he was not only recommended by PCS GEAR UP, but by some of last year's participants as well.
Bumpass said he was looking forward to learning more and meeting new people through GUALA.
Soon to be armed with training and new leadership responsibilities, Bumpass is eager to help other students achieve their goals.
“I just want to connect with the students that were like me,” Bumpass shared, “who didn't know about college and everything, just help them out, because our graduation rate is kind of low. I want to raise that up too.
“And really, just inform students on what they should be doing,” he added. “If I knew what I know now, I could do things totally differently.”
Bumpass said if he could do things over, he would have focused more on school and club activities, and sought more information about scholarships, applying to college, and what colleges offer and look for in applicants.
Bumpass said he didn't start actively pursuing college admission until the first semester of his senior year.
“Senior year, everything was thrown in my face, and I guess about the middle of the first semester, things got serious,” he said.
Bumpass plans to major in biology at UNC-G, and is considering going to medical school to become a doctor. He said the medical field has interested him for a while, as his mother is a nurse and his neighbor is a radiologist.
Woody noted that Bumpass was also the recipient of a Golden LEAF scholarship. She said she wished she and her fellow GEAR UP staff could take credit for “how fantastic Brandon is,” but said he in fact had all the things he needed to be successful. She said GEAR UP staff helped guide him in the right direction, but never had to remind him to complete or submit his applications. Woody said Bumpass was motivated and once he knew what to do, he did it.
Of Woody and GEAR UP coordinator Ricky Leathers, Bumpass said, “I couldn't do it without these two. They were my two biggest motivators this year.”
BY GREY PENTECOST
COURIER-TIMES STAFF WRITER