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EICC celebrates GEAR UP Iowa Program this week

Published: Sep. 23, 2020 at 7:04 PM CDT
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - Eastern Iowa Community Colleges is celebrating National GEAR UP(Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) week. The 7-year long program was a grant received in the fall of 2014. The long term partnership with 12 school districts, Iowa College Aid, and roughly 40 higher education institutions and organizations follow students from 7th grade through college to prepare them for a successful college experience. Many of the students in the program just began their first semester of college.

“Gear up is a federal program, is a federal grant, that prepares our low-income school districts with the means to be successful,” said Brittany Beard, the Program Coordinator. “Majority of these students are low income and first-generation students so some of them just don’t know how to do college so being able to help these students navigate through college is a wonderful experience.”

Beard helps GEAR UP students with their transition during their first year at EICC, connect them to resources, and get them acclimated. The program works with partner school districts, including Clinton, Columbus Junction, and Davenport, as well as colleges and universities across the state.

“Being able to help these students navigate through college is a wonderful experience and they’re so excited to receive the help. They’re so eager to be successful,” she said.

Benjamin Skalla started his first semester as a sophomore after earning college credits in high school. He said the program has helped him with his studying.

“I guess continuing my study skills and habits. That’s like the biggest thing I’m really...I’m improving on it that I took away from it,” he said.

Right now Skalla is taking history and science courses and hopes to find a career where he’d be able to travel.

For Davenport West High graduates and friends, Jolene Medugno and Americus Geest, the program has helped set them up for their future.

“I’ve been able to learn how to better manage my time. How to study better. Money management especially and just learning different useful life skills,” Geest said.

Geest is planning to pursue nursing and eventually transfer to the University of Iowa.

“Through GEAR UP I’ve been able to go on college tours, figure out if I wanted to go to universities first or community college first,” she said.

Medugno said she initially wanted to study nursing but found a passion for computers and technology through the program. Now, she’s pursuing computer engineering and forensic science and is planning to eventually transfer to St. Ambrose.

“With all the college classes that I’d taken, most of them were computers so I found that I have a really big passion for computers and doing technology and coding so it’s kind of drawn my attention towards that direction,” she said.

“I’m really excited about all the things EICC is doing to help encourage our GEAR UP students and so far it’s been a really great experience and it’s been so great to be able to meet these students, get to know them, and help them figure out what they want to do with their careers,” Beard said. “We’re really looking forward to celebrating the rest of the week and acknowledging our students and partners in GEAR UP.”

All full-time GEAR UP students receive a $1,200 scholarship and EICC is matching that. This is the second time Iowa received this federal grant. The first time was back in 2008.

88% of students in the program plan to complete a 2-year, 4-year, or higher college degree. The program serves to move the state towards the Future Ready Iowa goal of 70% of the workforce having education beyond high school by 2025.

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