U.S. Department of Education awards funding to UTPA GEAR UP
Posted: 08/18/2005
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The University of Texas-Pan American was recently selected by the U.S. Department of Education to receive funding for the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP) Project to continue its efforts in helping South Texas youth pursue a post-secondary education.

UTPA GEAR UP is expected to receive financial support in the amount of $7 million each year for the next six years from an $81 million grant that will also provide more than $6 million for six years to the Region One Education Service Center in Edinburg under GEAR UP. UT Pan American's program was the second highest GEAR UP program in the nation in funding received from the U.S. Department of Education.

"We are thrilled that the U.S. Department of Education and our leaders in Congress are committed to helping our South Texas students achieve their dreams through higher education. I want to thank our members of Congress and senators for fighting to keep our GEAR UP program alive," Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, UTPA president, said.

With the funding, the UT Pan American GEAR UP Project will be able to serve more than 9,000 students in 28 middle schools and 19 high schools in South Texas school districts, which includes four of the poorest counties in the nation.

"These students are our future and we need to make sure they have the financial means and skills to succeed in college and in their professional lives. We look forward to working with our partners in 13 school districts to put a college diploma on the wall of every home in the Rio Grande Valley," Cárdenas said.

GEAR UP services the following school districts: Brownsville, Donna, Edinburg, La Joya, La Sara, McAllen, Mission, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo, Raymondville, Rio Grande City, Weslaco, Santa Rosa, and the IDEA Academy in Donna through five major components - academic preparation; academic preparation support services; family and community outreach; professional development; and higher education collaborative.

Joe Garcia, interim director for the UTPA GEAR UP Project, said the grant will help improve student academic performance; increase the rate of high school graduation; provide opportunities for career exploration and character, cultural and leadership development; and increase the involvement of students in community development and service.

Through the UTPA GEAR UP Project, more than 500 students have earned college credit through concurrent enrollment and are projected to earn a full scholarship to UTPA once they complete the equivalent of 12 college hours through concurrent enrollment and advanced placement testing. The program is also expecting 96 percent of the current cohort of students to graduate under a Recommended Plan or a Distinguished Plan in high school.

In addition, Garcia said the grant will help GEAR UP parents learn valuable knowledge about post-secondary options, preparation and financing available for their children. The grant is also expected to offer teacher preparation and curriculum development to enhance the quality of the instructional program.

"There will also be 16 positions funded out of UTPA to support the project. UTPA will develop inter-local contracts to fund approximately 55 positions at the school-based sites. The positions are for GEAR UP counselors and family and community liaisons. In addition college tutors will also be hired in assisting GEAR UP students with academic preparation," Garcia said.

Jackie Michel, director of Innovation and Intellectual Property at UTPA and one of the grant writers for the GEAR UP proposal, said she was not surprised to learn the UTPA GEAR UP Project was the second highest funded GEAR UP program in the United States.

"I believe the U.S. Department of Education funded this proposal because UTPA GEAR UP's model is innovative. The UTPA GEAR UP program enrolls seventh grade students and follows them through high school graduation and beyond. It enables the Department of Education and other stakeholders to measure student outcomes and determine the real return on the investment by tracking these students. In addition, UTPA GEAR UP's strong corporate partnership in support of this model was another component for receiving maximum funding."

Since 2001, the UTPA GEAR UP has raised $1.7 million from corporations for University scholarships; raised $250,000 from local organizations and businesses for GEAR UP scholarship match; and has worked with federal agencies to raise funds for teacher preparation in math and science. In addition, GEAR UP is a top supporter of UTPA's Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week.

For more information on the University's GEAR UP Project, call 956/292-7505.