ASU, educational attainment program celebrate impact on Arizona’s class of 2024

GEAR UP continued to support students, teachers, parents and community partners throughout the pandemic

March 31, 2021

The barriers to educational equity have been exacerbated by COVID-19, but a group of educators gathered virtually in February to share resources and reaffirm their dedication to moving the needle on educational access.

ASU President Michael Crow addressed participants at the 2021 National Council for Community and Education Partnerships at their GEAR UP Capacity Building Workshop on Feb. 8. ASU earned a $7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to bring GEAR UP to Arizona students. masked students in a socially distanced classroom Download Full Image

In his remarks to more than 1,000 educators who are working on increasing postsecondary access and success for first-generation and low-income students, Crow emphasized that education is an essential service, even in a pandemic, and that programs such as GEAR UP are crucial interventions in bringing educational access to students. 

“It’s an honor to … have an opportunity to be with the front line of social change, the front line of building our democracy, the front line of empowering what it actually means to live in a free society with egalitarian access,” said Crow. 

Crow said that social mobility hasn’t advanced sufficiently in the last 50 years and that people who are in the bottom quarter of family incomes still have less than a 10% chance of graduating from college. He emphasized that creating more pathways to education is crucial. 

For the more than 3,000 Arizona ninth graders affected by the federally funded GEAR UP, the program has continued to provide crucial tutoring, mentorship and coaching throughout the school closures of 2020, when the GEAR UP cohort was transitioning to high school. The program has followed the same students since seventh grade and will follow them through one year after high school. 

GEAR UP’s goals are to provide academic support and intervention by way of tutoring and mentoring, increasing college readiness, raising graduation rates and educating students and families about postsecondary options, preparation and financing. Nationally, GEAR UP serves more than 580,000 low-income, minority and disadvantaged students in 42 states, three U.S. territories and Washington, D.C. 

Though the medium has been different, the message has been the same this year. This past fall, high schools even celebrated college and career readiness, mentorship and student success in a series of virtual events for National GEAR UP Week. Celebrations for the week, Sept. 21-25, included citywide proclamations from the mayors of Tempe, Tolleson, Glendale and Mesa, as well as social media prompts for students to think about and share about their heroes, their career and college goals, why education is important to them and more. 

Nathaly Gonzalez Peralta, a 15-year-old freshman at Tempe High School, said she was inspired to celebrate GEAR UP after she heard about it from her English teacher. 

“Participating in GEAR UP was pretty fun because you tell a different story about yourself and tell about your future life,” she said. 

During the school year, GEAR UP students receive individualized tutoring, training and help inside and outside the classroom from ASU students and staff who mentored them. When COVID-19 necessitated school closures, GEAR UP staff assisted in distributing laptops, hosted virtual live tutoring and one-on-one mentoring, planned virtual graduation ceremonies and hosted virtual meetups. 

ASU graduate student in higher and postsecondary education Rosalee Shoulders is a GEAR UP educational outreach specialist at Tempe High School. She said it was fun to see her students and educators participate in GEAR UP week on social media because it highlighted how important these resources are during a tumultuous year. 

“Reading their stories and seeing their engagement with GEAR UP week gives me hope that students have a great support system to succeed with the help of the GEAR UP program,” Shoulders said. 

Political science and family and human development major RaNiyah Taylor said the students she works with in Mesa participated in GEAR UP week on social media. In her role as an academic tutor and success coach at Westwood High School, she has seen firsthand the excitement on students’ faces this semester to have resources and connections.

“I think GEAR UP will have a huge impact on these students. Even just from being in the middle schools, I could see the impact I made on students and their curiosity in college,” Taylor said. “In high school, it will be such a game changer for these students to have a resource like GEAR UP. This program is certainly something I wish was available to me when I was in high school.”

Tempe High School Assistant Principal for Academics Suzanne Pachuta said the school is thrilled to have GEAR UP on campus starting this year to develop innovative ways to support student success. Pachuta said she thinks the impact will be seen all across the school community because the experiences are integrative across subjects and experiences. 

“I can see GEAR UP having a deep impact on our 2024 cohort and our entire school for years to come. The systems they are helping us to develop, the creative problem-solving and work through the logistics of getting support up and running are all things I can see continuing to support student learning and needs,” Pachuta said. 

The GEAR UP cohort students in Arizona started as seventh graders at Kino Junior High School, Gililland Middle School, Desert Horizon Elementary School, Porfirio H. Gonzales Elementary School, Don Mensendick School and Maryland School. Districts participating in the GEAR UP grant include Tempe Elementary, Tempe Union, Mesa Public Schools, Pendergast Elementary, Tolleson Elementary, Tolleson Union, Glendale Elementary, Washington Elementary and Glendale Union. Community partners include the Be A Leader Foundation, APS, Glendale Community College, the Arizona College Access Network, MidFirst Bank, Mesa Counts on College, Tempe College Connect and many others who are committed to improving postsecondary outcomes for Arizona students and families. Many of these partners also contribute to the Achieve60AZ goal that by 2030 60% of Arizona adults will hold a postsecondary credential or degree. 

Ricardo Villa-Sanchez, a senior coordinator for GEAR UP, works with Westwood High School and Tempe High School. Other participating high schools are Glendale High School, Tolleson High School and Washington High School. He also worked as a GEAR UP tutor as an undergraduate at ASU  and was inspired to continue working with the program because it provides support not just to students but to entire communities. 

“Support programming should not be limited to just the classroom; instead, it should weave into the families and communities of our students,” he said. “I have continued to work with GEAR UP as its core values and mission align with my own personal beliefs regarding student and community success."

ASU Associate Vice President for Outreach Sylvia Symonds said that ASU is proud to be a part of such a unique and effective program that both moves the needle for educational attainment rates and impacts so many individual families’ lives.

“Because GEAR UP follows the same cohort of students through their secondary education, we can offer significant support that will change students’ and families’ lives,” said Symonds. “We celebrate the impact of GEAR UP year-round, and we’re very proud of how much support it has provided to students in 2020.”

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


ASU sophomore quadruple major named Newman Civic Fellow

April 1, 2021

Nathaniel Ross, an Arizona State University sophomore, aspires to work professionally on public policy affecting the disabled community. He recently was awarded the Newman Civic Fellowship, which he believes will help set him on a path to achieve that goal.

Ross is a Flinn Scholar and member of Barrett, The Honors College at ASU who is quadruple majoring in biological sciences, political science, applied quantitative science and history, with a minor in dance and two certificates — one in religion and conflict and another in civic education. Nathaniel Ross Sophomore Nathaniel Ross has won the Newman Civic Fellowship. Download Full Image

“I am passionate about disability advocacy and I plan to work in public policy within the disability space. Particularly I want to work in the intersections of disability with issues like education, employment and especially the environment. I plan to go to law school to better understand the legal system's role in disability discrimination. My ultimate goal is to be where the policy is made. I am just not sure if that is as a lawyer, a legislative advocate, or an elected official,” he said.

“This fellowship will help equip me with skills and techniques to increase community engagement and organization. I will also have the opportunity to meet incredible students and professionals who will provide insights into what future paths I can follow to make the biggest positive impact.”

He is one of 290 students from the U.S. and Mexico chosen by Campus Compact, a Boston-based nonprofit organization working to advance the public purposes of higher education, to make up the organization’s 2021–22 cohort of Newman Civic Fellows. Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities committed to the public purposes of higher education, supports institutions in fulfilling their public purposes by deepening their ability to improve community life and to educate students for civic and social responsibility.

The Newman Civic Fellowship is a yearlong program for students from Campus Compact member institutions. The students selected for the fellowship are leaders on their campuses who demonstrate a commitment to finding solutions for challenges facing communities locally, nationally and internationally.

Much of Ross's work centers on community partnerships. Over the last six months, he has worked closely with other students, ASU staff and faculty through Luminosity Lab, a prominent research and development lab that partners with external organizations, to develop and prototype innovative solutions to local and societal challenges.

He serves as vice president for network engagement with ASU's Greenlight Solutions chapter, where he identifies and connects with targeted businesses to develop more environmentally friendly processes and solutions.

He is an intern for Creosote Partners lobbying firm, where he works with clients promoting criminal justice reform, health care access and environmental justice. Nathaniel volunteers as a mentor to children that are dealing with health issues and builds relationships within the community.

“It was such an honor to be chosen to represent ASU in this fellowship. I see my selection as additional motivation to continue the work I have done, as well as to find new ways of improving the lives of the people in my community. I was able to meet some of the people on the selection committee, and hearing how much they believed in me was so encouraging and helped me to believe that I am going in the right direction for my future,” Ross said.

Ross said the best things about being a Newman Fellow are the connections he will make with a network of current and former fellows, the opportunity to attend a conference for fellows next spring to learn about public policy and leadership, and having a mentor throughout the program. 

The fellowship is named for the late Frank Newman, one of Campus Compact’s founders, who was an advocate for civic engagement in higher education. In the spirit of Newman’s leadership, Campus Compact member presidents and chancellors nominate student leaders from their campuses to be named Newman Civic Fellows.

Through the fellowship, Campus Compact provides fellows with a variety of learning and networking opportunities that emphasize personal, professional and civic growth. Each year, fellows participate in numerous virtual training and networking opportunities to help provide them with the skills and connections they need to create large-scale positive change.

The cornerstone of the fellowship is the Annual Convening of Fellows, which offers intensive skill-building and networking over the course of two days. The fellowship also provides fellows with pathways to apply for exclusive scholarship and postgraduate opportunities.

“We are proud to recognize these extraordinary student leaders and thrilled to engage with them,” said Campus Compact President Andrew Seligsohn. “The experience of the last year has driven home to all of us that we need open-minded, innovative, public-spirited thinkers and doers. That is what Campus Compact is about, and the stories of our Newman Civic Fellows demonstrate it's who they are.”

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College