Alumni in the News

From homelessness to Purdue University, GEAR UP Alumni Brooks Van Buren has defeated the odds. Brooks was part of Wyoming GEAR UP, and his GEAR UP counselors and other school staff helped him overcome astounding odds. He was 2015 GEAR UP Student of the Year, is currently a member of the GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy, and is a full-time student at Purdue University. His passion and perseverance shines through in his accomplishments, and we are so excited to see Brooks continue to thrive and grow.

In West Virginia, GEAR UP alum, Ikie Brooks, was highlighted after a recent interview. He was interviewed on MetroNews, “Talkline,” by host Hoppy Kercheval.

A graduate of the Yale-Bridgeport GEAR UP Partnership Project has been chosen for the highly competitive GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy (GUALA), Class of 2017.

Saul Almazan lives in Bridgeport, and is a 2014 graduate of Central Magnet High School in the city. While in high school he was part of Yale-Bridgeport GEAR UP, a partnership between the Yale Department of Psychiatry and Bridgeport Public Schools. The program is directed by Nadia Ward, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry.

GEAR UP, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is a federally funded program that provides services to help increase the number of students who are prepared for and succeed in higher education. The program serves approximately 570,000 students in low-income schools across 43 states and one territory.

Yale-Bridgeport GEAR UP’s region serves over 1,000 high school seniors. The students have participated in the program since they were in seventh-grade in 2011-12.

The National Council for Community and Education Partnerships created the GUALA program to better support the GEAR UP mission nationwide. GUALA works to advance college and career readiness in communities by providing 12 months of training for alumni leaders on topics related to peer-to-peer outreach and mentoring, social media engagement, public speaking, and education policy.

Almazan, a junior psychology major at the University of Bridgeport, was one of 24 applicants selected from a nationwide pool to participate in GUALA. He traveled to Washington, D.C., in July for a week of leadership training.

Earlier this week, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin joined leaders across the nation in proclaiming this week “National GEAR UP Week,” highlighting the importance of going to college and encouraging students to pursue their dreams.

It’s common knowledge that a high school education simply doesn’t cut it anymore. Going into an interview with a college degree gives the candidate an automatic edge over a candidate with a high school diploma.

This is particularly true in West Virginia. According to statistics provided by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, half of all jobs created in the state will require a college degree by 2020. A college degree is a necessity.

As a first-generation college student, knowing just how important it is to go to college presented a number of challenges for me. I didn’t have family members leading me by the arm, showing me what to do.

Luckily, in my eighth grade year, I became a student of West Virginia GEAR UP, a college access program that guided me in the right direction in applying and going to college.

“When you come from a small town, college seems like such a far way away,” says Globe High School graduate Tim Wiley. Wiley was Globe High School’s valedictorian when he graduated in 2012 and this May he graduated from ASU with a degree in exercise and wellness. He is a passionate advocate for bringing educational opportunities to rural areas like Globe-Miami and recently traveled to Washington DC as part of the Gear-up Alumni Leadership Academy (GUALA) to bring that message to national and state leaders.

“We don’t have the same opportunities that people in Scottsdale have […] and we should,” says Wiley. Wiley was part of the 2012 Gear-up class at Globe High School. Gear-up is a federally-funded program that seeks to increase the number of students who are prepared for and succeed in higher education. Connie Callaway, Gear-up Coordinator at Globe High School, follows a class of students from seventh grade to graduation every six years. According to Callaway, the Globe Gear-up program is a partnership between Globe High School and Gear-up.

University of Nevada, Reno senior Alexes Garrett was selected from a national pool of applicants as part of an elite group of 24 students to take part in the GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy. GUALA recently afforded Garrett the opportunity to attend a training session in Washington, D.C. where she and her cohorts learned how to advocate for the program and current GEAR UP students.

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP, is a discretionary grant program set up by the federal government to increase the population of low-income students prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education. The aid comes in the form of six-year grants given to high-poverty middle and high schools.

Garrett entered GEAR UP as a seventh grader in Las Vegas, Nevada. Participating in GEAR UP during her time in middle school influenced her decision to attend Northwest Career and Technical Academy, a magnet school, instead of her zoned high school, according to Garrett.

Biology student chosen for national “GEAR UP” leadership academy

James “Ikie” Brooks, a native of Boone County and a student in Marshall University’s College of Science, has been selected to participate in the highly competitive “GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy,” (GUALA) a 12-month national leadership program providing students across the country with intensive training in civic engagement and community development.

The GUALA program identifies students with exceptional leadership potential and provides training to help them engage their peers, schools and communities in creating a college-going culture, according to a release by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.

Brooks, a junior biology student, was one of 24 persons selected from a nationwide pool of applicants made up of students who have graduated from high schools served by the federal GEAR UP program. GEAR UP, which stands for “Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs,” works to prepare students to enter and succeed in postsecondary education programs.

Three Wyoming students have been selected as GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy (GUALA) representatives. Only 24 students were chosen from a nationwide pool of applicants.

GUALA is a 12-month leadership development program for alumni of the federal GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) program, with the state office at the University of Wyoming.

Students Claudia Vanessa Hernandez Marquez, KaylaRae Lawrence and William Brooks Van Buren will travel to Washington, D.C., this month to receive training on grassroots advocacy, social media advocacy and leadership skills during a weeklong retreat. The training will help them to educate others about the importance of GEAR UP and assist toward creating positive change in education policy for younger GEAR UP students.

GEAR UP Wyoming is an educational assistance program at UW that prepares income-eligible Wyoming students for success in higher education. The program is funded 50 percent through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education totaling $3.5 million annually, with an additional $3.5 million provided by in-kind and scholarship contributions from UW, Wyoming’s community colleges and the Wyoming Department of Education.

Earlier this week, William Brooks Van Buren  (Brooks) agreed to interview with us. Brooks was last year's winner of the 2015 Youth Leadership Award. Since winning the award, he has enrolled in Purdue University and is currently in the midst of finals. Brooks talks about how the award has changed his perspective on his life and accomplishments!

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.

Two Oakland University students recently went to Washington, D.C., where they spent eight days learning how to take leadership to a new level.  From June 13-20, Daniel Lewis and La’Asia Johnson took part in a leadership training program, during which they met with elected officials and developed skills in peer outreach, social media activism, public speaking and issue advocacy.

Andrea Garcia from Brownsville and Jonathan Garcia from San Benito have been chosen for the highly competitive GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy (GUALA), Class of 2016. The GUALA program identifies students with exceptional leadership potential and provides additional training and tools to help them more effectively engage their peers, schools, and community in creating a college-going culture.

Isabella Buongiorno of Cheyenne, a University of Wyoming environmental and natural resources student, received training on grassroots advocacy, social media advocacy and leadership skills during the recent GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy (GUALA) in Washington, D.C.


Ali Guerrero was struggling in school and thinking about dropping out. As a last resort he enrolled at WestSide High School his sophomore year, never imaging what a life-changing decision that would be.

At WestSide, Ali met GEAR UP coordinator Sheena Zacherele. GEAR UP is a federal program designed to prepare low-income students to succeed in postsecondary education. Sheena convinced (badgered, coerced, pleaded with) Ali to attend a Washington Business Week program offered at Western Washington University the summer after his sophomore year. Wenatchee Rotary Club sponsored the trip.

Once on campus for Business Week, Ali says he decided to get out of his comfort zone and talk to the other kids and what he heard surprised him. “They had goals. They were eager to do things. They took pride in their accomplishments,” says Ali. “I looked at myself and I hadn’t done anything. I didn’t even feel like I deserved to be there.”

Ali decided to change.

Oregon State University student Elizabeth González will be one of just 30 students nationwide to participate in the inaugural GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy (GUALA) in Washington, D.C., this summer. González will be the only Oregon student represented and will travel to the capitol for a week-long retreat in June to receive training in grassroots advocacy, social media advocacy, and leadership skills. A sociology major and alumna of Madras High School, González is active in the Kalmekak outreach program, the Meso American Student Association, and the College Assistance Migrant Program. “I am really excited to be able to give back to those who have helped me so much with my education, as well as being able to improve the GEAR UP program for those who come after me,” Gonzalez said in a release.