OU’S GEAR UP program sees record enrollment, changes students’ lives

OU’S GEAR UP program sees record enrollment, changes students’ lives
Kourtney Rouser and Kennay Carpenter
Kourtney Rouser, left, and Kennay Carpenter have been in Oakland University's GEAR UP program since seventh grade. Both are now in their freshman year at OU, with a goal to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

OU freshman Kennay Carpenter set her sights on college in seventh grade as a member of Oakland University’s chapter of the Michigan GEAR UP program.

GEAR UP, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is Michigan’s largest college access initiative, with chapters at each of the state’s 15 public universities. GEAR UP follows students from seventh grade through their first year of college and is focused on helping underrepresented students succeed in post-secondary education.  


Carpenter, a graduate of Oak Park High School, says GEAR UP not only gave her the tools and support to make a successful transition from high school to college, it also provided a sense of belonging that has enriched her experience at Oakland.


“They treat us like family,” Carpenter said of the GEAR UP staff. “If we have a problem and we can’t reach our own parents, they’re our next call.”


OU’s GEAR UP program, which is coordinated through Pre-College Programs, works with pre-college students in Pontiac and Oak Park, offering a variety of initiatives and events to increase college readiness, including college tours, summer residential programs, academic and peer mentoring, ACT/SAT prep, and financial literacy and career exploration workshops.


Oakland currently has 119 freshmen – the most in its history –  who came from GEAR UP programs around the state. Nearly 30 percent of them came from OU’s three GEAR UP partner high schools – Pontiac, Oak Park and International Technology Academy. OU leaders work diligently to ensure a successful transition not only for these students, but also for students who went through OU’s GEAR UP program and now attend other public universities in Michigan.


“We contact each institution to ensure that students are connected with the Michigan GEAR UP office on their new campus,” said Reginald McCloud, director of Pre-College Programs. “GEAR UP students recognize that the Michigan GEAR UP brand represents support for them the moment they set foot on campus.”


GEAR UP Boot Camp

Twenty incoming freshmen recently took part in OU's 2017 Michigan GEAR UP Summer Boot Camp, a weeklong series of skill-building and networking events.

Carpenter says that her time in OU’s GEAR UP program helped her make connections on campus before becoming an OU student.


“It felt like home because I knew the campus, I knew professors, and I knew people in admissions,” she said. “They welcomed us here as kids.”


As part of the GEAR UP experience, students tour colleges in Michigan and around the country, said Tiffany Elliott-Fowler, assistant director of Pre-College Programs.


“This is important because although we would love to have all of our students attend OU, we understand that students need to explore their options and find the school that is best for them.”


Kourtney Rouser, a GEAR UP student and graduate of Pontiac High School, says that Oakland’s strong support system made it the right choice for her.


“GEAR UP guides you and helps you build the self-discipline needed to stay on track,” Rouser said.


Kendra Agee, coordinator of Pre-College Programs, visited the GEAR UP students weekly starting in their junior year of high school to help them chart a path to post-secondary education.


“11th-grade is a pivotal year when students need to make a decision about where they’re headed, whether that’s college or some type of vocational training,” Agee said. “A lot of emphasis is placed on making sure they’re taking the skills they learned in previous years and putting them into play as they look toward building the life they want after high school.”


Agee noted that in the past, the GEAR UP program ended after high school. The current GEAR UP cohort is the first one that follows students through their first year of college, which gives GEAR UP leaders an opportunity to gauge the effectiveness of the program.


“This is the first cohort where we’ve actually had a firsthand look at how GEAR UP students perform in college,” said Agee. “Having students like Kennay and Kourtney here and being able to see their progress as first-year college students shows that GEAR UP is working.”


Carpenter and Rouser are both preparing to apply to Oakland’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. They hope to stay connected to the GEAR UP program in the future.


“GEAR UP isn’t just something you forget about when it’s over,” Rouser said. “It becomes part of you. Hopefully, when we graduate and start our careers, we’ll be able to give back and support the new students in the program.”


To learn more about OU’s GEAR UP program, visit the website.