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GEAR UP Program Helps Students Open Doors
Every September, as families settle into their back-to-school routines, VSAC celebrates National GEAR UP Week, which promotes the wealth of resources and opportunities offered through this federally funded college and career guidance program. This year, National GEAR UP week falls on September 20–24, and 2021 marks the 22nd year of the program in Vermont.
VSAC GEAR UP services are available free of charge to middle- and high-school students throughout the state, beginning in the 7th grade and continuing through the first year after high school. The program empowers students and their families by expanding access to career exploration, job training, and college planning resources.
In addition to summer programs, GEAR UP offers services that range from college visits to group and 1-on-1 meetings where counselors can offer personalized guidance to students and their families. Each GEAR UP student is also eligible for a scholarship to help pay for education after high school.
For Vermont students and families who are thinking about postsecondary plans — and in many cases, how those plans can be paid for — GEAR UP can literally be life-changing.
Dylan Bertolini, a former GEAR UP student from the Northeast Kingdom who is now a counselor with VSAC, recalls that the program connected him with enrichment opportunities that aligned with his interests. As a high school student, Bertolini attended the July Program at Bennington College, where he spent a month living on a college campus with 250 other students from across the country and studying college-level philosophy. “I was actually reading Kierkegaard in high school!” he recalls.
Meadow Yvon, who grew up in Vershire and participated in GEAR UP throughout high school, says the career planning aspect of the program was particularly helpful. “I figured, ‘yeah, I’ll go to college,’ but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was scared I would pick something and not like it,” Meadow recalls.
Her GEAR UP counselor worked with her on personality quizzes and other exercises to help her identify what she might enjoy, and that’s when dental hygiene first came into the picture. Her counselor then found some more information for Meadow about typical salaries and educational requirements for dental careers. After completing a job shadow in a dental office, Meadow was sold. She is currently starting her junior year in the dental program at the University of Bridgeport in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
For Fair Haven’s Nikiah Viger, the support she received from GEAR UP made her feel more comfortable about applying to college. “I didn't even know what college really was until I started that program,” she remembers. GEAR UP made it possible for her to visit several campuses. It also helped her prepare for college by showing her how to take notes, how to sharpen her organizational skills, and how to create pro and con lists to make major life decisions.
“Having those support systems took a lot of the stress out of the process,” Nikiah says. “I had a really good experience applying to schools.” After completing her undergraduate degree at the College of Saint Joseph, Nikiah went on to earn her master’s degree from Suffolk University and now serves as a senior financial aid officer at Castleton University.
Over the last year and a half of COVID, VSAC’s GEAR UP counselors have gotten creative in order to continue offering guidance and support. The information that used to be presented at in-person events through GEAR UP’s College and Career Pathways Program is now all available online through video interviews with local experts (visit vsac.org/ccp to learn more). And the program formerly known as Kingdom Career Connect, which used to be a full day of workshops at Northern Vermont University–Lyndon, is now also hosted online, which makes it more accessible to students from all over Vermont. The (renamed) Vermont Career Connect program, hosted at vsac.org/vermont-career-connect, features more than 100 career interviews, a career interest survey, and more career exploration resources and activities.
GEAR UP serves more than 250,000 students throughout the country. Here in Vermont, GEAR UP services are available to eligible students in 37 schools. A full list of those GEAR UP schools can be found at vsac.org/gearup. If you attend one of these schools and think you might be interested in participating in GEAR UP, talk to your school counselor for information on how to apply. And if your school isn’t on that list, check out the VSAC website for resources and virtual events of interest.
Need help with pursuing your career goals and education needs? VSAC is here to help you. Serving our community is at the heart of all we do. During this ever-changing time, we remain available and committed to help you navigate all your career and education needs.
For information on college and career planning and help with financial aid, go to www.vsac.org/FAFSAfirst and check out our online workshops and events. For an update of how we can help with the impact of COVID-19, click here. You can also give us a call at 800-642-3177, 8:00 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday and online at email@example.com.