ATHENS, W.Va. — Nearly 200 high school sophomores in 10 West Virginia counties are experiencing life on a college campus this week.
The students are attending the West Virginia GEAR UP college prep academy at Concord University where they will learn how to select college courses, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), live in a residence hall and participate in activities that prepare students for post secondary education and training programs.
The event, which runs through Saturday, is sponsored by the state Higher Education Policy Commission. GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is a federally funded initiative.
“It kind of helps me understand what it’s going to be like to go and actually live away from my parents on a college campus,” said Britney Cochran, a sophomore at Westside High School in Wyoming County.
The program, she said, is also helping her figure out what she’d like to study in college.
“I want to become a pediatrician, so I’ll probably go through the medical field,” Cochran said.
Josiah Baker, a sophomore at Oak Hill High School in Fayette County, has his eyes on West Virginia University to study architectural engineering. He said he’s been able to open up with other students in the program.
“They just like try to get our personalities out, try to help us be more talkative, so I just learned to put myself out there a little bit more,” he said.
Westside High graduate Alex Barlow now serves as a camp counselor. He participated in GEAR UP from 2011-2013. He’s in the process of transferring from Marshall University.
“Now I get to have the experience of showing other kids that college is possible. It’s just a really great feeling to come back and be a counselor and be in the same shoes as my old counselors,” he said.
Adam Green, vice chancellor for student affairs at the WVHEPC and program director for GEAR UP, said the program works. He said more students have applied to college and have attended college because of GEAR UP.
“We saw an increase in nearly four percent of our students that we serve go on to post secondary education, so it did yield results,” he said.
The program serves students in Boone, Fayette, Mason, Mercer, Mingo, Nicholas, Summers, Webster, Wirt and Wyoming counties.