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GEAR UP program offers pre-college experience to local ninth graders

Monday, March 23, 2009
GEAR UP program offers pre-college experience to local ninth graders
By Katie Land, news editor

As part of its community outreach efforts, Oakland University’s Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) offers a variety of academic and social services to all ninth-grade students in the Oak Park and Pontiac school districts.

“Participants have shown improvement in their math and writing skills based on their pre- and post-test results,” said Reginald McCloud, director of the Department of Pre-College Programs. “Socially and culturally, the students have been exposed to many different events and environments of which they had never experienced. Lastly, the participants have had the opportunity to explore their career options.”

This year the well-received program is supported by four Oakland academic units that created this spring’s Saturday Academies, which are designed to augment and enhance the students’ current schooling and their interest in higher education.

These academies are broken up into GEAR UP 4 Math, GEAR UP for Engineering, GEAR UP for Life and GEAR UP for Language. Throughout a span of four to six weeks, students participate in three-hour sessions to develop and improve their fundamental skills, while being exposed to more challenging and advanced material.

“The feedback from the school districts has been extremely positive and supportive – from the superintendants to the parents and teachers,” McCloud continued. “Support from our academic units has been outstanding, with many requests from them to continue working with the GEAR UP students.”

GEAR UP offers benefits for more than the student participants. The program satisfies one of Oakland’s core values by working for solutions to community needs. It offers the opportunity for undergraduate students to work with pre-college students in a role model capacity and gives graduate students the chance to earn practicum hours while serving as facilitators in many of the programs, according to McCloud.

“One of the greatest challenges for a professor of engineering is to make the complex appear simple and to make the simple appear meaningful,” said Lorenzo Smith, associate professor for the Department of Engineering. “The exercises employed in the GEAR UP program help sharpen my teaching skills in the college classroom.”

The cohort program is a six-year federal, state and Oakland-funded program that is in its third year. This year the Saturday Academy program was implemented with even greater interest from GEAR UP students, Oakland mentors, academic units and the Pontiac and Oak Park school districts.

With increasing support comes increasing participation. There are currently 893 students in the program, compared with 735 when it began in the 2006-2007 school year. Even faculty and student facilitators vie for positions.

“There is real competition among the counseling students to have the GEAR UP experience. Everyone who has done it so far found it exciting, educationally valuable and personally rewarding,” said Mary Rose Day, assistant professor for the Department of Counseling.

The experience has been overwhelmingly positive for those involved and has left a lasting impression on Smith. “As I grow older and as I watch my own children grow, my sensitivity to young students' needs seems to grow each day. I see my own children in each of the GEAR UP students. The GEAR UP program allows me to serve many children, some of whom may not have contact with people who can inspire and motivate them into pursuing college degrees.”

GEAR UP offers various sessions throughout the year, including a summer resident camp. Students may participate in college visits, peer mentoring and tutoring, with a budding Parent Program to keep the whole family involved.

For more information, visit the Department of Pre-College programs website at and select programs.