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MI GEAR UP Program Supports First-Generation Students, other Groups with College Exposure Events, Collaborative Partnerships

Photo Ferris State University students Amere Blake (left) of the Zeta Beta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, and Marcus Taylor, (right) with Omega Psi Phi, volunteer their service as the Southfield Kappa League mentoring program visited the Big Rapids campus Sunday, Oct. 3. MI GEAR UP student workers Isdasha Jones, Nia Goins and Laila Duncan are kneeling in the first row and served as hosts and role models for the visitor group.

Ferris State University’s Office of Multicultural Student Services supports K-12 students from nearby districts and a partner system, across the Upper and Lower Peninsula, promoting college-ready learning through MI GEAR UP (Michigan Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs). MI GEAR UP partners with all 15 Michigan public universities, utilizing valuable external collaboration to provide early intervention services and a college scholarship for student participants.

Chelsey Brownlee, the coordinator of Pre-College Programs with the OMSS, said there is federal, state and institutional level funding for MI GEAR UP with their partner districts: Baldwin Community Schools, Morley Stanwood Community Schools, along with the Muskegon Public Schools and Muskegon Heights Academy Public Schools System. The mission of MI GEAR UP is to increase student awareness of requirements to enter post-secondary education and help them build critical thinking, test taking and study skills necessary to be successful as they continue their education.

“Our seven-year grant serves students cohort-style and follows them from the seventh grade through high school graduation, with MI GEAR UP programming,” Brownlee said. “We are now in our third cohort of the grant cycle (2020-2026) and serving 8th-grade student participants. That includes academic workshops, in-school and after-school tutoring, ACT/SAT preparation, comprehensive one-on-one mentorship, financial literacy events, college campus visits, summer camps and consistent exposure related to Financial Preparation and Academic Readiness. We have 11 student workers, who travel daily to our partner districts to offer this assistance throughout the year.”

Brownlee said raising awareness of Ferris’ TIP (Tuition Incentive Program), as funded by the state of Michigan, is a difference-making aspect of their curriculum.

“Many of the students in our MI GEAR UP partner districts are considered underrepresented, first-generation college prospects and some of those students also come from low-income households.” Brownlee said. “TIP eligibility is something we can identify and provide as a potential resource to them. Raising their level of financial preparation in their high school years is crucial to their success, rather than working to develop that literacy as they arrive on our campus.”

Brownlee added the MI GEAR UP program is a vital contributor to students as the COVID-19 pandemic impacted opportunities for educational instruction and social interaction over the last year and a half.

“We heard from our partner districts that these connections were important in supporting these students, in a time of significant difficulty for young learners and their instructors,” Brownlee said. “We have a commitment to connect with and support these students, to give them every opportunity to succeed as learners and young leaders.”

Brownlee added MI GEAR UP provides funding from the State of Michigan to work with students outside the target school sites. The Martin Luther King Jr. /Cesar Chavez /Rosa Parks College Day Program (KCP/College Day) is an extension of MI GEAR UP resources, intended to introduce any economically disadvantaged Michigan K-12 student to the significance of a college degree. The most recent KCP/College Day event was offered Sunday, Oct. 3. Forty African-American high school-age high school students arrived in Big Rapids as participants in the Southfield Kappa League mentoring program.

“Our student employees are engaged with MI GEAR UP/KCP College Day participants, in one-day events or continuing programming for our cohorts,” Brownlee said. “Whether they wind up as Ferris students on the main campus, or go on to another institution, we work to encourage their graduation from high school and to apply to and pursue their dreams, through higher education.”