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Danyelle Gregory

Office of Multicultural Student Services 

by John Smith - Oct. 20, 2016

Ferris State UniversityBased on Coordinator of Pre-College Programs Danyelle Gregory’s experiences during the last two years, shaping high school students for success, an administrator in Ferris State University’s Office of Multicultural Student Services knows there will be emotional moments ahead, as those in the MI GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) program approach their individual goals.

The university’s second cohort in this seven-year, grant-funded program is now heading into their senior year of high school, and Gregory said that she’s excited by these students’ successes. Ferris is offering counseling, training and postsecondary exposure to students from Big Rapids High School, Morley Stanwood High School, Baldwin High School, Muskegon High School and Muskegon Heights Academy.

“When a district has 50 percent or more of its students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, it is considered underrepresented,” Gregory said. “You get quite attached to students very quickly.”

Gregory came to Ferris in September of 2014, having served in a similar capacity at Western Michigan University, for a total of nine years. Those she serves, in GEAR UP, began the program as seventh-graders, and will be supported through the fall semester of their first year in college. Gregory spent time during this group’s junior year helping the students prepare for assessment tests.

“We were focusing on SAT prep, as students had been trained to address the ACT, prior to the state’s change of tests last year,” Gregory said. “We made this the emphasis of workshops, including the Reality Remix Teen Empowerment Summit. We had a keynote speaker, a former Harlem Globetrotter who encouraged them to stay on task.”

Gregory’s GEAR UP work is supported by an Americorps/Vista Youth Development Coordinator, and part of their joint effort is to develop programs that stimulate these students to pursue excellence in the classroom, and gain the skills necessary to graduate from a higher education institution.

“We survey our students after everything we do,” Gregory said. “We try to tailor workshops and our activities to the subjects they are interested in. It can be about hobbies, or sports, as long as we can meet the objectives of greater learning.”

Those efforts include helping students improve results on the SAT, based on their PSAT results, and increasing their level of achievement in the classroom.

“Those students, who are in Advanced Placement classes, are tutored throughout the semester, and re-tested, if necessary, so that they can get the appropriate college credit,” Gregory said. “Seventy-five percent of our students successfully advanced to become juniors last year, and we work on credit recovery so they don’t fall behind.”

When summer arrives, Gregory has the opportunity to expose GEAR UP students to college campuses, and introduce them to officials at a variety of schools. Around 30 of their students traveled to the eastern seaboard and the Southeast on Sunday, July 31. Along the way, they visited Howard University, in Washington, D.C., the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and continue to Morehouse College, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University in Georgia. The tour concluded with a stop at Tennessee State University, in Nashville.

“Last summer, we based a tour at Chicago State University, and visited a number of schools in that area,” Gregory said. “We would love for them to matriculate at Ferris, but ultimately, we want them to see campuses and decide what they like. Students participating in our tours have to keep a journal, and record what they liked about each school. That gets the wheels turning.”

While Gregory’s work primarily benefits the students in the Class of 2017 at the five high schools, she said that there are opportunities to help other students and meet requirements of the grants that support this program.

“Working with the Michigan Campus Compact, we can offer tutoring to all the students,” Gregory said. “We bring services to the school, where GEAR UP students and others can benefit. Financial aid nights were offered in the Muskegon and Big Rapids areas. We welcomed students of all ages.”

Gregory understands that her monthly visits to each of the five schools, and interactions with the Sisters of Success, a girls’ mentoring program in Muskegon are building toward the conclusion of this six-year cohort. She is prepared for the mixed feelings that come with saying goodbye, and good luck to these young adults who have grown personally, and academically through their involvement with GEAR UP.

“There’s a lot of interaction, and we get to know them extremely well,” Gregory said. “That’s the reward in this kind of work, to see them succeed and advance in their lives.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Danyelle Gregory is Ferris State University’s Coordinator of Pre-College Programs, and oversees the MI GEAR UP program, supporting students from five west Michigan high schools.

John Smith is the communications specialist for News Services and Social Media in University Advancement and Marketing.

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