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Hundreds of potential future Colonels converged on the Campus Beautiful on Sept. 25. for the official launch of the GEAR UP Kentucky program.

GEAR UP Kentucky is a seven-year grant program administered by the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) designed to increase the number of high school graduates receiving higher education. Students in 12 Kentucky counties will gain access to a GEAR UP college counselor, free summer camps on college campuses, and other resources. 

“We knew we had to do a better job of helping students that may not even think they have the opportunity to be successful, who don’t understand how,” said Kentucky CPE President Dr. Aaron Thompson. Few people are as passionate about the program as Thompson, who was not only a first-generation college student when he graduated from EKU in 1979, but a first-generation high-school student. 

“The power of GEAR UP is that we lead you through the college process,” said Thompson. “We give you skills that give you the chance to advance.” 

The event marked the Kentucky program’s official launch, and the celebration of National GEAR UP Week. Seventh and twelfth graders from Bourbon County and Paris Independent schools filed into Brock Auditorium at 10 a.m. The students heard from Thompson, EKU President Dr. Michael T. Benson, and junior and GEAR UP Kentucky alum Alex Alonso-Ibarra. The EKU band, members of the National Pan-Hellenic Council and the Pi Lambda Chi Latina sorority performed. 

“I don’t believe that today’s event could have gone any better, and that is a testament to the dedication of EKU staff and staff from Bourbon County and Paris Independent schools,” said Missy Ross, director of operations and partnership for GEAR UP Kentucky. “For many of our students, today was their very first experience on a college campus — and it was a great one. Our students were given the opportunity today to visualize themselves as college students, and that’s powerful.”

Though only Bourbon county and Paris Independent school districts attended, GEAR UP also serves Bath, Bracken, Fleming, Marion, Mason, Mercer, Pendleton and Robertson counties, as well as Covington and Frankfort Independent school districts. The event was broadcast live on YouTube for those unable to attend.

EKU’s partnership with GEAR UP serves to provide students a bridge to a successful college experience according to Heather Davis, assistant director of Academic Readiness at EKU. In fact, the office recently hired a graduate assistant to help students from GEAR UP schools adjust to EKU.  

“I want to offer a partnership where the committed school staff and faculty can hand off their students to people that will care just as much as they do,” said Davis. “I want them to know we value everything they have done to create a firm foundation, and we can’t wait to take the baton and show these students they can be successful in college.”