Teena Olszewski, executive director of Arizona GEAR UP, has been named the 2014 GEAR UP Professional of the Year by the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships.

Olszewski was recognized during the organization’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. for her commitment to the GEAR UP movement.

“Teena has been a dynamic and committed leader at NAU and across the nation,” said Daniel Kain, vice provost for Academic Personnel and principal investigator for Arizona GEAR UP. “She is an advocate for what will help students succeed and the young people of Arizona are better for her work. We are extraordinarily proud of her recognition as top in the nation.”

Since 2002, Olszewski has guided the statewide efforts of GEAR UP, a national program intended to help low-income students graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college. Arizona GEAR UP, now in its third round of federal funding, has worked with 67 schools in 26 communities across the state to help more than 12,000 students and their families prepare, apply and pay for college.

“Teena’s leadership extends beyond her grant to the GEAR UP movement,” said Nathan Monnell, president and CEO of the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships. “She gives countless hours to improve college access services and strengthen outcomes for students from low-income families. She is truly deserving of this national recognition.”

GEAR UP’s numbers speak to program’s success. In 2012, the graduation rate for GEAR UP students who had been in the program for six years was 83 percent, compared with a statewide average of 73 percent, and the college enrollment rate was 72 percent, compared with a statewide average of 51 percent.

Among the initiatives Olszewski has led are the creation of the Arizona College and Career Planning Guide for middle school students, working with the Arizona College Access Network to bring online counselor training programs to college access professionals in Arizona and partnering with American College Testing to administer EXPLORE to Arizona’s eighth graders, a college assessment test that has been used to promote driven decision making in schools throughout Arizona.

“Nothing of worth that is ever achieved is ever achieved alone,” Olszewski said. “This award truly reflects the efforts of many — the entire GEAR UP team at NAU and our shared commitment with schools and community partners statewide to supporting students achieve their dreams.”