Eastern delegation attends 2018 NCCEP/GEAR UP Annual Conference in Washington, DC

Thirty-two students, chaperones, superintendents and GEAR UP team members recently attended the 2018 NCCEP/GEAR UP Annual Conference “Calling All Superheroes” in Washington, DC. The group spent three days touring Villanova University New York University, and Columbia University, as well as historical sites in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington, DC.

As the conference activities began, the eight students—Arianna Garcia, Panola; Jerry Hurt, Keota; Desarae Jordan, Rattan; Parker Judkins, Talihina; Carlye Kennedy, McAlester; Dre Spring, Spiro; Zane White, Atoka; and Hannah Wingo, Savanna—attended the first session of the Youth Leadership Summit (YLS), chaperones—Shane Wilcox; Preston Rowland; Tori Crawford; Rowdy Johnson; Brooke Crocker; Brenda Naylor; Mike White; and Crys Wingo—attended a “Chaperone Orientation” and superintendents—Bruce Gillham, Shady Point and Randy Hughes, McAlester—attended an orientation for the District Leadership Institute.

The opening session of the conference began with NCCEP President and CEO Ranjit Sidhu welcoming more than 1,800 GEAR UP professionals from around the nation. Keynote speaker for the morning plenary session was Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole. Adam Kissel, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Higher Education, US Department of Education also spoke. Austin Perine, a 4-year-old from Alabama and his father, Terrance, were special guests. When Austin’s dad told him what it meant to be homeless, Austin started a mission to help. He spends his monthly allowance buying food and drink for homeless people, and is raising money to do more.

Following the opening session, the eight student members returned to the YLS, a program providing a high–quality, national–level interactive training experience and peer–to–peer learning opportunity for 9th–12th grade high school students who are currently participating in GEAR UP programs.

Chaperones for the YLS students attended the Parent Leadership Institute (PLI). The PLI was designed to cultivate a group of parents and family leaders with a greater capacity to promote positive change in their children, school and community, and to move forward an agenda that centers on making college possible for all students.

Over the next three days, members of the GEAR UP team chose from 109 workshop sessions designed to help practitioners to excel, prove, and mobilize. Plenary session speakers included Alex Sheen, founder of because I said I would, a social movement and nonprofit dedicated to bettering humanity through promises made and kept; Brian Banks, one of the country’s most prominent exonerees, this former football star inspired with his life-affirming story of resiliency, redemption and triumph over adversity and injustice; and Gaby Rivera, a young speaker dedicated to empowering women and improving our marginalized communities.

GEAR UP Professional Development Coordinator John Spiegel joined with Kathie Boozer, Founder Explore Colleges, to present “Real World STEM Applications for Students.”

The highlight of the conference was the presentation by the NCCEP Youth Leadership Summit participants. Tears and laughter filled the room as students talked about how GEAR UP has affected their lives.

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) is a federal initiative to increase the number of low–income students who enter and successfully transition into postsecondary education. Students participating were recent high school graduates and participated in Eastern’s 2011 GEAR UP grant. In 2017, Eastern received its third federal GEAR UP grant, a seven-year, $17 million grant serving over 3,000 students in 39 partner schools in southeastern Oklahoma.

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