College was just a mere thought for Joseph Camacho during his freshman year at Katella High School in Anaheim.
Today, the 19-year-old CSUF sophomore credits Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) and GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy (GUALA) for helping him get into a four-year university and helping him to thrive.
GEAR UP is a federally funded program, usually beginning in seventh grade, aimed at helping low-income students get into and succeed in college. GUALA is focused on helping GEAR UP alumni develop and strengthen their leadership and advocacy skills over a span of 12 months.
A second-year criminal justice major, Camacho was nominated by campus director Adriana Badillo for GUALA. More than 100 students are nominated every year from across the country but only 30 are selected; Camacho was one of them.
The year-long program kicked off in May and focuses on leadership development.
GUALA’s objective is to help students strengthen their leadership skills and give back to the community.
As part of the program, Camacho was given the opportunity to fly to Washington D.C. along with 29 other GUALA students and spend eight days with elected officials.
“Mainly what it was focused on was preparing us and helping the students connect with the representatives and senators from their home state and advocate the GEAR UP program,” Camacho said.
The trip consisted of attending workshops and visiting Capitol Hill, where the students met with members of Congress and shared their stories about how the GEAR UP program helped them get where they are today. The workshops focused on how to improve self-representation and how to use one’s voice as a tool.
“Not only were the workshops driven to enhance our speaking skills for when we return to our communities, they were set as a guide to help us while each student met with their state representative and senator,” Camacho said.
Camacho says his favorite part about GUALA has been discovering how large the program is and meeting other individuals who are also passionate about helping their communities. Despite being nervous, Camacho found himself enjoying the trip to Washington D.C.
“The D.C. trip was a neat experience,” he said, “It definitely helped me improve the way I approach professionals and the way I present myself.”
Camacho plans to continue serving his community and hopes to spread the word about GEAR UP and GUALA.
“I plan to continue the GEAR UP program,” Camacho said, “And to get the students that have this opportunity to take advantage of it.”
The program helped him create better study habits and has molded him into the individual he is today, he said.