Arizona GEAR UP creates college and career readiness guide for middle school students

Cover of the GEAR UP college readiness guide

Arizona GEAR UP, a project of Northern Arizona University that helps increase educational opportunity and access for youth living in low-income communities in Arizona, will launch an innovative college and career readiness strategy for middle-grade students. The Discover Guide provides step-by-step activities to help students examine interests, passions and abilities and shows students how these aptitudes can propel a potential career. Students discover a postsecondary path and the steps to get there. Arizona GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) also will provide support to teachers and parents during the launch and beyond.

The Discover Guide aligns with the Achieve60AZ initiative, which states that by 2030, 60 percent of Arizona adults, ages 25 to 64, will hold a postsecondary credential or degree. As part of the Discover Guide, students will complete an Education and Career Action Plan (ECAP), which will help students set college and career goals before they enter high school.

“NAU has led Arizona GEAR UP for 20 years and it is one of the many ways NAU contributes to addressing the critical education needs among students in our state,” said NAU President Rita Cheng. “It is crucial for Arizona students to have all the resources they need to be successful in school and preparing for college, and I am pleased at this longtime collaboration between NAU and our partners.”

In collaboration with Achieve60AZ, Arizona GEAR UP identified 41 high schools, and the middle schools that feed into them, to provide services. Arizona GEAR UP will send Discover Guides to all eighth-graders in these targeted schools. In addition, the guide is available for download, free of charge, in both English and Spanish. Highlights include:

  • Student exploration of how interests, passions and abilities can inform a career path
  • Exercises to determine a career personality and career cluster
  • Postsecondary paths that align with personalized findings
  • Steps needed to follow the desired path

“The earlier students begin postsecondary planning, the better,” said Ramona Mellott, dean of the College of Education and co-principal investigator for Arizona GEAR UP. “The Discover Guide provides middle school students the opportunity to explore how their abilities and passions can lead them toward a career path filled with purpose, and students will discover the postsecondary path to lead them toward success. Every Arizona middle school student would benefit from this valuable tool.”

Arizona GEAR UP is a seven-year partnership between the U.S. Department of Education, NAU and local, state and national partners including the Arizona Business & Education Coalition, Arizona K12 Center, Be a Leader Foundation, Center for the Future of Arizona, College Success Arizona, Expect More Arizona, Helios Education Foundation, National Council for Community and Education Partnerships and Student Success Agency.

Arizona GEAR UP aims to foster partnerships and collaborations between NAU, middle and high schools in low-income communities and organizations throughout the state that are committed to enhancing education in Arizona.

The grant focuses on the Five Es of Equity—engage, empower, excel, elevate and enrich—and includes three broad efforts:

  • Expanding GEAR UP to serve all seniors in 41 Title I high schools with a graduation rate below the state average. These schools, known as GEAR UP Achieve60 schools, serve almost 11,600 seniors each year.
  • Serving five high schools and the middle schools that feed into those schools, and working with students (on average, 4,100 students in grades 7-12 each year) to increase academic performance, high school graduation rates and collegiate preparation and success.
  • Reaching additional middle and high school students statewide through large-scale dissemination and use of published students’ guides.

This is the fourth GEAR UP grant NAU has been awarded since the university began administering this program in 2000. Gov. Doug Ducey designated NAU as Arizona’s applicant for GEAR UP, and the award includes a dollar-for-dollar match to the $31.7 million in federal funds. Education professor Daniel Kain has been a principal investigator since 2002; Mellott is a co-PI on the current grant, which builds on 20 years of experience, as well as research on best practices in college access to leverage an innovative design that makes it possible for more than 15,000 students to benefit annually from program services.

NAU Communications