Arizona GEAR UP: Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs
Arizona GEAR UP at NAU is an innovative college access program that works.
Created in 1999 through a federal grant, GEAR UP is aimed specifically at students from low-income communities statewide. Because of GEAR UP's track record of success, the grant was renewed in 2012; Arizona GEAR UP at NAU is in the second year of the seven-year grant cycle.
Arizona GEAR UP at NAU is successful because it is unique. It differs from other college access programs by:
- Catching the attention of students early in their academic lives, starting in 7th grade.
- Raising the academic aspiration of an entire group (cohort) of students. Rather than working just with individuals at the disparate locations, we work with an entire grade level at a school. The group learns to dream together, cultivating the motivation, knowledge and skills needed to succeed along the pathway to college.
- Serving children early in their academic careers, beginning in 7th grade.
- Keeping these groups of children together all the way through high school.
- Working with parents to alleviate fears and elevate expectations.
- Enlisting the support of parents, teachers, guidance counselors, school administrators and community groups.
Scroll down to learn more about Arizona GEAR UP at NAU.
GEAR UP is a federally-funded college-access program started in 1999, authorized under the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), now in 47 states. The purpose of GEAR UP is to significantly increase the number of students from low-income communities who graduate from high school prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.
Project ComponentsRead more
design of Arizona GEAR UP 2012-19 includes three project components:
- In-School Partnerships,
serving 4,000 students in 30 rural schools in
six AZ counties;
- Middle Grade Initiative,
impacting 200+ schools / 40,000+ students statewide; and
- Local and State Collaborations,
advancing broader and shared aims with multiple entities.
Arizona GEAR UP 2012-19 embraces the importance of evaluation and research through
an Initiative on the Study of College and Career Readiness, and is
a member of the multi-state GEAR UP College and Career Readiness
the GEAR UP cohort approach ensures that all students in particular grades are
served, the program is a natural vehicle for systemic change.
State GEAR UP officeRead more
Daniel L. Kain
Northern Arizona University
Dr. Daniel Kain is the Vice Provost for Academic Personnel at Northern Arizona University and Principal Investigator (PI) for Arizona GEAR UP 2012-19; his role as PI spans three grant cycles and a decade. In addition to overall project oversight, Dr. Kain brings expertise in curriculum and research-based instructional strategies to GEAR UP. He served as Principal Investigator on the 2010-12 research study of the Arizona GEAR UP intervention, academic mentoring. Dr. Kain is the former Dean of the College of Education at Northern Arizona University, and a leading academic authority for middle school professional development with a specialty in problem-based learning.
Teena Olszewski, M.Ed., serves as Arizona GEAR UP Executive Director and has provided leadership to the Arizona GEAR UP Office since 2002. She is responsible for ensuring compliance with programmatic, administrative and fiscal requirements of the project; creating and expanding partnerships to meet grant objectives; representing Arizona GEAR UP to constituents; and initiating actions to increase preparation for, access to, and retention in postsecondary education. She brings more than 25 years of executive-level administrative, management and leadership experience in government, education and non-profit environments to the position. Prior to joining Arizona GEAR UP, Teena served for ten years as Chief Administrator of the Attorney General's Office of Victim Services. Teena obtained her bachelor's degree in justice administration from Indiana University and a master's degree in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University.
Executive Assistant (Special Assignment)
Elizabeth Elkes-Johnson has worked with NAU GEAR UP for 5 years as the Assistant to the State Office. She is currently serving as the Executive Assistant reporting directly to Teena Olszewski, Arizona GEAR UP Executive Director on special assignment. She provides executive support and serves as the primary point of contact for internal and external constituencies on all matters pertaining to the Executive Director. Elizabeth completes a broad variety of administrative tasks that facilitate the Executive Director’s ability to effectively lead GEAR UP in serving it’s students and communities. She obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Speech Communication and just completed her coursework for a Masters of Applied Communication with an emphasis in advocacy.
Stephen R. Hart
Stephen Hart, Ed.D., is responsible for all financial operations as it relates to Arizona GEAR UP. He received his bachelor's degree in economics at Arizona State University (ASU), a Master's of Public Administration from ASU, and doctorate in Educational Leadership from NAU. He came to Arizona GEAR UP in 2004 from the Arizona Community Foundation, where he was administering the Arizona GEAR UP Scholarship Program. Prior to that, Steve served Colorado College as its Director of Advancement Services, overseeing the department's donor records and major prospects database. Steve is excited to be part of Arizona GEAR UP.
Data Management & Program Effectiveness
Data Management & Program Effectiveness
Barbara Soby is responsible for all data-related matters -- promoting data-informed continuous improvement, ensuring reporting compliance, and supporting rigorous annual evaluations of the project. Barbara received her M.S. in Child Development from the University of California at Davis and her bachelor's degree in Psychology from Boston State College. For over 30 years, her career and research has focused on support for, and empowerment of, disadvantaged and disenfranchised populations. She has a strong belief in prevention and early intervention for addressing social problems and improving the quality of life at both the individual and community levels.
Data Input Operator
Jan Wenning provides direction and leadership to ensure effective student services and compliance with grant requirements at schools in fourteen school districts across the state. She directly supervised two Site Support Specialists, and together they provide consultation and guidance for 16 full-time GEAR UP Coordinators at the school sites. Jan received her M.Ed. in special education from the University of Maryland at College Park. Her career has focused on prevention and early intervention for disadvantaged children and their families with an emphasis on collaborative efforts. These efforts have taken place in her work with Head Start programs in Maryland and Arizona, and as Director of the Arizona Governor's Division for Children, where she was responsible for administering federal grants for early care/education and for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Rhae Lynne Clawson
Site Support Specialist
Rhae Lynne Clawson provides direction, guidance, support and
feedback to nine GEAR UP school-based Coordinators and their site-based Task
Force members to develop/implement and execute annual performance based work
plans. She assists with continuous assessment and evaluation of work plan
progress and student participation in GEAR UP activities. Rhae Lynne received her Bachelor’s Degree in
Secondary Education-History and Social Studies from Northern Arizona
University. She is currently in process of earning a Master’s of Secondary
Education at Northern Arizona University. Rhae Lynne came to GEAR UP in 2012
from the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Scottsdale (BGCS) where she served as a
branch Education Director, and worked to develop and implement a college
readiness program across the organization. Prior to working with BGCS, Rhae
Lynne taught 6-8th grade Science and Social Studies in the
Pendergast school district for 6 years.
Ann Connelly Is Manager of the EXPLORE Program, an early college and career awareness/preparation Program. GEAR UP offers the ACT –EXPLORE to all 8th graders throughout the State of Arizona and funds schools that have a 50% free and reduced lunch rate. The EXPLORE is a curriculum-based assessment designed for 8th graders that assesses students’ academic progress, provides early measurement of college readiness, and helps students understand and begin to explore career options. Ann has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Colorado State University and a Master of Education – School Counseling degree from Northern Arizona University. She has worked in education for more than 15 years, with her career focused on advocating for early college and career awareness, including preparation of post-secondary plans aimed at preparing students for college, career and life.
Middle Grade Initiative
Benefits of GEAR UPRead more
The first and most important
benefit of Arizona GEAR UP at NAU is: it works.
GEAR UP students – who had been in the program for five years – graduated from
high school at a rate of 83%, nearly three times the state average. 72% of
these students are verified to have enrolled in college in the fall.
The success of these Arizona GEAR UP students is the
result of a broad range of intervention and enrichment activities. Benefits of
the program include:
GEAR UP Site
Directors examine why students miss class and then implement programs -
proactive and reactive - to encourage students to attend their classes.
Creating interventions that address the reasons for absenteeism is the key to
solving the problem.
tutoring, mentoring, improved attendance, academic enrichment activities, and the
encouragement and inspiration they receive from their Site Directors, GEAR UP
students do better in school, and their grades reflect this. Between the first
and third years of the Program, the percentage of NAU-GEAR UP students achieving
grades of B or better in mathematics and language arts increased.
A fundamental GEAR UP premise is that children will live up to, or
down to, the expectations that are held for them. GEAR UP sponsors training for
site staff, faculty and administration, parents, and mentors on the Power of
As a result, GEAR UP students regularly and consistently hear that
they will graduate from high school, are capable of succeeding in college, and that
they have the support they need to do both. Because parents and students alike
are provided information about the cost of college and the availability of
financial aid and scholarships, they learn that money does not have to be a
barrier to post secondary education.
Higher enrollment in college prerequisite courses
one-on-one academic counseling, GEAR UP Site Directors ensure that students are
enrolling and succeeding in classes required for college admission (classes
which are often more advanced than those required for high school graduation).
Increased scores on standardized tests
tutoring, mentoring, improved attendance, academic enrichment activities, and
the encouragement and inspiration they receive from their Site Directors, GEAR
UP students often do better on standardized tests like the AIMS.
Enhanced knowledge of the value and cost of college
UP-sponsored Financial Aid and College Preparation workshops, one-on-one
counseling and numerous written communiqués to parents (in English and Spanish)
give parents and students a more realistic picture of how much college will
cost and how much financial aid is available. Assistance in finding and
applying for scholarships provides concrete financial assistance. Job shadowing
and career workshops let students experience first-hand the kinds of careers
that will be available to them if they succeed in college.
Increased High School Graduation Rates
improved attendance and grades, inspired and encouraged by mentors and their
Site Directors, and motivated by the expectation of going to college and the
possibility of a rewarding career, we expect that the drop out rate among GEAR
UP students will be lower than the drop out rate of comparable non-GEAR UP
Outcomes/Evidence of successRead more
- Class of 2006:
- 82 percent graduation rate (67 percent for state)
- 75 percent college-going rate* (31 percent for state)
- Class of 2009
- 95 percent graduation rate
- 69 percent college-going rate*
- Class of 2010
- 94 percent graduation rate
- 81 percent college-going rate*
- Class of 2011
- 82 percent graduation rate
*Each student’s actual attendance in college was verified in the fall of the year they graduated.
State GEAR UP Office
Northern Arizona University
15601 N. 28th Ave., #136
Phoenix, AZ 85053
Phone: (602) 776-4616
Fax: (602) 776-4619