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OTTUMWA — A grant funded through the Iowa Department of Education is opening the eyes of Evans Middle School seventh-graders to a handful employment opportunities.

The Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant is doing just that: Gearing students up for their future, something many of their peers aren't thinking about at that age.

"Seventh-graders aren't really thinking about college and careers, so I started this off doing an interested inventory with them," said GEAR UP Coach Shellie Stevens. "They got to fill it out and they got to learn about their personalities and where their personalities lined up with different careers."

Using these interest inventories, the 325 members of the class of 2020 selected two programs to visit at Indian Hills Community College (IHCC) Tuesday morning.

Stevens has been working with pupils, simulating adulthood in a way that the students could profit from. The students researched career options and began playing out the lifestyle they hoped for using their potential salary. She said some quickly recognized the benefits of a college education when their desired lifestyle could not be sustained with the wages they estimated.

Through 10 selected states, the program will serve an estimated 6,300 students states from low-income schools beginning in the seventh grade, follow them through high school and continue benefiting them in college.

This is the second time that Ottumwa has been received a grant of this type. A previous grant worked with the graduating class of 2014 since 2008 when they, too, were just seventh-graders.

The GEAR UP grant doesn't simply supply students with a college plan early on; it also funds a college degree. Every Ottumwa High School graduate in the class of 2014 automatically received a $2,600 PELL Grant when applying to college simply because they were recognized as a member of the program. This will also be true of the students in the class of 2020; however the awarded amount has yet to be determined by the state.

Tuesday's IHCC visit is one of many hands-on learning experiences that are offered to students throughout their time in the program. Stevens says that this approach appeals to her students because they get to simulate a college experience at a young age.

Although the day was focused on the middle schoolers, Requiter Jim Davis says that college students also enjoy getting to show off the skill they have worked hard to attain.

"They are helping with a lot of hands-on activities today," he said. "These [middle school] kids get to hear the message straight from the mouth of college students, some of whom are about to graduate and get jobs. It really benefits our students because it gives them a chance to teach what they've learned in the classroom."

Before creating a bottle opener in the Machine Technology department, seventh-grader Quentin Bishop called IHCC a lot of fun. He explained that through program he will be better prepared for the future because he can test out a few career paths.

"The GEAR UP program prepares them, lets them know and educates them about real-life career choices and the many college opportunities that are out there for them," said Stevens as the class of 2020 filed out of the Hellyer Center taking their first step into the future.

— Danielle Lunsford can be reached at dlunsford@ottuwmacourier.com and followed @CourierDanielle.

Source: Ottumwacourier