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Marie Marchand - The Power of GEAR UP

What I value most about GEAR UP is how it builds a college-going culture and mindset among students and families using evidence-based programs.

-Marie Marchand, GEAR UP Associate Director

Marie Marchand started as Associate Director of CWU GEAR UP in February 2020. She spent her first week at a GEAR UP capacity building conference in Orlando.

“It was an incredible opportunity to meet inspiring educators from across the country,” she says. “What I value most about GEAR UP is how it builds a college-going culture and mindset among students and families using evidence-based programs. Students in GEAR UP surpass statewide rates for high school graduation and college enrollment.”

Marie has been appointed GEAR UP’s Interim Director to close-out the current SOAR grant through January, which involves submitting the grant's Final Performance Report to the U.S. Department of Education.

In her role as Associate Director, Marie worked on various projects, including the Summer Speaker Series and Student Ambassador Program. She created the Featured Profiles page that spotlights the crucial work of GEAR UP staff members and students.

Marie is a passionate mental health advocate having served on the board of NAMI Whatcom, an affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, from 2014 to 2018. During the pandemic, she worked with GEAR UP site directors to address the mental health concerns of students and families by creating a mental health resources page and pocket cards for the 741741 Crisis Text Line. Additionally, as a member of CWU's Suicide Prevention Team, she works with others to build a culture of acceptance and care where all people feel comfortable accessing support.

Throughout her career, Marie has been committed to equity and community service. She served for five years as an adjunct faculty member in the Human Services Program at Western Washington University. She was a nonprofit executive director for nine years leading Friendship House homeless shelter in Mount Vernon and the Whatcom Peace & Justice Center in Bellingham. As host and co-producer of the TV show Bellingham Voices, she featured leaders working on important social issues such as racial justice, bias awareness, mental health, domestic violence, homelessness, and genocide.

"GEAR UP's ultimate goal is ending the cycle of poverty," says Marie. "As a first-generation college student, I can attest to the power of education, and I want to help make opportunities available to everyone."

German Mendoza - The Importance of Cultural Ties

GEAR UP strives to cultivate a college-going mindset for all students.

-German Mendoza, Lead GEAR UP Site Director

GEAR UP Site Director German Mendoza grew up in Orondo, WA, a small agricultural town along the Columbia River in the Wenatchee Valley. His parents immigrated from Mexico in the 1980s to build a life of opportunity for their children. They believed education to be the pathway out of poverty. Their dedication inspired German to persist and succeed in his academic journey. After graduating from Wenatchee High School, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Washington State University.

“I loved the atmosphere at WSU, so I stayed in college an extra year!” shares German. “I especially enjoyed attending WSU football and basketball games.” He returned to Wenatchee with the goal of becoming a police officer. He switched his focus, however, when he saw an open position with GEAR UP. The field of education turned out to be the perfect match. For seven years, he has provided enthusiastic mentorship to students and their families.

“German is an active listener, a quality that enables him to build rapport with students,” says GEAR UP Director Josue Estrada. “He always motivates and inspires those around him.”

German is passionate about the mission of GEAR UP because he received little guidance about college growing up. “Since my parents didn’t speak English, there was no help on school material whatsoever. This was a blessing in disguise. It taught me how to advocate for myself, which is a top value I try to instill in students.”

German embraces his cultural heritage and encourages GEAR UP students to stay connected to their diverse backgrounds. “Because my parents are monolingual Spanish speakers, I continued to speak Spanish. I’m thankful for the opportunity I had to stay connected to my culture growing up.”

In addition to serving students directly, German and the other GEAR UP Site Directors have many behind-the-scenes duties, such as entering data, planning events, and collaborating with teachers and school administrators.

“As the Lead Site Director at Wenatchee High School, German is the primary liaison between CWU and the Wenatchee School District,” explains Josue. “In this role, he has succeeded in fostering a positive relationship between both institutions to maximize GEAR UP’s capacity to support students.”

As the current grant comes to a close, German reflects on his time working with the same cohort of students. Six years ago, a middle school student came to him and asked for funds to start a new chess club. GEAR UP was able to help. Through the years, this student participated in many GEAR UP educational trips. Recently, the program was able to pay for some of his Running Start expenses. On June 4th, he will be graduating with his high school diploma and AA degree debt-free. “He is a go-getter who will achieve great things in life,” comments German.

“My ultimate hope is that all our students find happiness while using their talents to make the world a better place. Finding a career that ignites a flame inside of you is so fulfilling.”

German knows how important it is for young people to have trusted adults to motivate them. He attributes his success to his hard-working parents. When he and his three siblings graduated from college, his parents’ dreams were fulfilled. Now, he is passing their philosophy on to his two young daughters.

Ambition Equals Success for GEAR UP Student

GEAR UP is encouraging me to continue my education and prepare for college.

-Dulce Roman-Trejo, Brewster High School Class of 2021

Brewster High School senior Dulce Roman-Trejo started participating in GEAR UP as a freshman in 2017. She credits the program with opening her mind to more opportunities for the future. “GEAR UP is encouraging me to continue my education and prepare for college. The program also helped my sister decide where to go to college.” Dulce’s favorite GEAR UP event was a three-day visit to the Olympic National Park. She says it was the first and best forest she'd visited. She also enjoys the annual GEAR UP week festivities when Site Director Lesley Hernandez organizes fun activities and prizes for participants.

“Lesley checks up on you to see how everything is going and if you need any help,” says Dulce. “She encouraged me to prepare for my senior year and kept me active in learning over the summer. She is very caring and will help you prepare for the future.”

Lesley is grateful for the chance to work with a student like Dulce. “Since my arrival at Brewster High School, Dulce has never failed to take an opportunity offered by GEAR UP,” says Lesley. “She educates herself through college tours, workshops, and the other programs we offer.”

Lesley has been a GEAR UP Site Director at BHS since July 2019 after graduating from Oregon State University with a Master’s Degree in College Student Services Administration. As a first-generation college student from a farm-working background, Lesley shares similar identities with a number of students at the school. She finds passion and purpose knowing that students and their families trust her and come to her for support.

“I hope that all students I work with are able to use their lived experiences, cultural traditions, and life challenges to empower themselves to become resilient and successful in college and/or their career.” Lesley is motivated to help students graduate high school so they can ultimately find a career that provides them with stability, generational wealth, and happiness.

Dulce plans on attending Wenatchee Valley College for two years to earn her Associates Degree. Then she wants to transfer to Spokane Community College for Cosmetology. She is looking forward to learning the art and science of haircutting, dying, tinting, manicuring, and much more. She is also open to discovering new interests and other potential paths during her college experience.

Lesley is excited about Dulce’s future. “I have no doubt that Dulce’s ambitious and determined personality will lead her to success.”

Photo: Tiffany Joy Photography

Zed Deenik - Helping Students Pursue Their Dreams

I found an opportunity to join the GEAR UP Team, and I jumped at the chance to help prepare students for postsecondary education.

-Zed Deenik, GEAR UP Site Director

Born and raised in South Africa, Zed Deenik had a unique high school experience as a student at Kearsney College, a boarding school hundreds of miles from his home. Situated on a massive hill, Kearsney’s old buildings with stone statues felt more like Hogwarts than a typical American high school (sans the magic, unfortunately).

Zed’s immigration to the U.S. at age 16 caused culture shock, especially when he discovered a lack of support services at his new high school. But he was determined to go to college. With the support of his family, he attended Central Oregon Community College then transferred to Eastern Oregon University where he earned two bachelor’s degrees and a Master of Business Administration. Now, in his role as a GEAR UP Site Director, Zed provides seniors at Chelan High School (CHS) with as many opportunities as possible so they can pursue their goals and dreams.

“I appreciate how GEAR UP transcends the traditional boundaries of the school system by working with students over the long term,” Zed says. “By providing a common touch point, students have a trusted adult starting in 6th and 7th grades through their high school graduation.”

CHS offers unique learning opportunities. In the Academic Success Program, for example, junior and senior mentors were paired with freshman mentees in need of additional support. While Zed taught social and emotional life skills, another beneficial dynamic was taking place in the classroom: The freshmen gained role models and the juniors and seniors learned about the challenges of their younger classmates. Some mentees were impacted so positively, they became mentors themselves. One former mentee from the Class of 2020 recently commented that it was Zed who helped him persist through high school and successfully graduate on time.

Zed is married to his college sweetheart and they have two young daughters. His family serves as a foundational source of inspiration. He is currently studying to become a teacher, an endeavor his family enthusiastically supports. His top value in life and education is knowing how to use facts, logic, and reason to make sense of the world.

It is Zed’s greatest hope that the students graduating from CHS enter the world ready to maximize their potential and make a positive impact on themselves, their families, their community, and the world.

Diana Sanchez - The Power of Belonging

I believe that every student is capable of changing the world.

-Diana Sanchez, GEAR UP Site Director

For Diana Sanchez, helping high school students to formulate goals and dreams for their futures is an honor. As the first person in her family to have graduated from college, she is passionate about introducing young people to new opportunities they never thought possible. Many low-income students think they don’t belong in college. GEAR UP believes that everyone deserves the chance to attend and succeed in college.

Diana has worked as a GEAR UP Site Director at Wenatchee High School since 2015, guiding two cohorts through their senior year and first year of college. She currently assists the WHS Class of 2021 in the areas of robotics, college applications, scholarships, and interpreting financial aid award letters.

Prior to her position with GEAR UP, she worked with bilingual students and families in the Wenatchee School District. During her time as a student at Eastern Washington University, where she majored in Psychology, Diana worked as a research assistant focusing on the social emotional and behavioral assessment of young adults.

Known as the Apple Capital of the World, Wenatchee is home to many migrant families who work in the agricultural sector. Eighteen percent of WHS students are from migrant families. CWU GEAR UP has a four-person bilingual team working with a total of 611 seniors at both Wenatchee and Westside High Schools.

Diana knows the impact GEAR UP has on young people, especially those who come from low-income families. As a source of motivation, she keeps a letter from a former robotics student who is now a junior at Central Washington University pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology. The student wrote:

“I will never forget the impact that GEAR UP had in my life during high school. Robotics was everything to me. It still is. I would go to school, study, do my homework, but every second of free time was dedicated to robotics. I lived and breathed it. I am currently a part of the VEX League at CWU and plan on continuing my passion after I graduate from college.”

These relationships inspire Diana to persist in her work. Young people need encouragement from a trusted adult, especially during the Pandemic. They need to know they belong. Sometimes a GEAR UP Site Director is the only person with whom a student connects.

Diana believes in her students. She is excited about the possibilities that await them. Seeing them grow and thrive is what makes being a GEAR UP Site Director her dream job.

New Wildcat Allison Coleman

Allison goes above and beyond every time. She is a sincere student who exerts effort and digs deep. I'm excited for her future!

-Colleen Hall, GEAR UP Site Director

GEAR UP is an outstanding resource for students. I am so grateful I took advantage of it during my senior year! At Hanford High School, GEAR UP provides students with events and programs to encourage success in college or a trade. Ms. Hall and Mr. Vowels took time to educate me on scholarships and other financial aid. They encouraged me to explore my options and pointed me in the right direction.

After attending virtual college tours with GEAR UP, I decided to go to CWU. My Site Directors taught me what to expect when entering college.

My favorite GEAR UP activity was the Summer Stipend Program. Students were awarded Amazon gifts cards for completing tasks related to college and career. Tasks included setting up our FAFSA IDs, researching scholarships, and writing resumes. The Summer Stipend Program motivated me during quarantine and made me less stressed out about starting college this fall. It was really hard to figure out registration and orientation since it was solely online, but by breaking it into several steps, it turned out to be pretty easy.

Through GEAR UP, I realized that education is a journey where I can explore different paths until I find the right one. All of the hard work that Hanford’s Site Directors put in behind the scenes is what inspired me to do better. They helped me bridge the gap between high school and college, and made the entire process less intimidating.

As a new student at CWU, I am looking forward to finding a career that I am passionate about and meeting new people along the way. I am training with the track team here and can’t wait to get faster and stronger to become better at pole vaulting. I am optimistic that we will get to compete soon.

Thanks, GEAR UP, for everything you did for me!

Suzette Ellis - Spreading Hope

Photo of Suzette Ellis

This position is an opportunity to build lasting relationships with students as they dream big for their futures.

-Suzette Ellis, GEAR UP Site Director

Tonasket is a small, tight-knit community in north central Washington with a population of approximately 2,000 people. Last year, the high school had 317 students.

"Tonasket has a powerful, positive feeling of togetherness that I have never experienced in any other school district,” says Suzette Ellis. “The community provides amazing support to our school. We want our students to know they are valued and important.”

Suzette embodies the values of care and compassion. She was recently recognized as a Wildcat Award Nominee for outstanding responsiveness in her community when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged last spring. In addition to riding the school bus each day to deliver homework and lunches, Suzette sewed dozens of facemasks at home. She even helped maintain the school greenhouse and save 900 seedlings that led to a successful fundraiser. She accomplished all of this while doing her regular job of mentoring juniors and seniors towards high school graduation and educating them about possibilities in higher education.

Suzette was drawn to GEAR UP because, like many students in the program, she is a first-generation college student. Growing up, her parents expected her to earn a high school diploma, but they never talked about or explored college as an option. For a long time, Suzette believed that postsecondary achievement was improbable, if not impossible. She eventually realized that she belonged in the college classroom. College wasn't just for others; it was for her, too.

After marrying her high school sweetheart and having a daughter, she persevered and finally walked across the stage to earn a Bachelor of Science in Child Development and Family Relations from the University of Idaho. Now it is her mission to make academic success possible for students at Tonasket High School. She encourages them to consider all of the options for their futures after graduation.

“I am grateful for each day with the students,” says Suzette. “It is a privilege to be a part of one of the most important decisions they will ever make."

CWU GEAR UP provides students with the tools, guidance, and academic assistance needed to achieve their dreams. Suzette recognizes that young people need support and encouragement now more than ever. In the face of change and uncertainty, she maintains hope and shares it with everyone she meets.

"My greatest hope is that my students find happiness through a career that inspires them."

Oroville Graduate Looking Forward to WSU

Photo of Charles Egerton

Good Luck and Congratulations, Charlie!
I know you will do great things!

-Dawn Miller, GEAR UP Site Director

Nestled in the Okanogan River Basin of North Central Washington, Oroville is a rural community of just under 2,000 people. Dawn Miller has lived there for 23 years.

“There isn’t a place in the world I would rather live than in Oroville. I get to hike, hunt, fish, garden, and swim– all out my front door. Not many people can say that about where they live!”

For 15 years, Dawn has worked at the local school as a GEAR UP Site Director. The middle and high schools share a building with a total of 271 students. The student body demographic is comprised of mostly White students (60%) and Hispanic/Latino students (35%). The school qualifies as a GEAR UP partner because of its high rate of low-income families, with over two-thirds of students receiving free and reduced lunch.

For the 2020 school year, there were 45 juniors and 32 seniors, 30 of which graduated with their diplomas. Charles Egerton is one of the graduates.

“GEAR UP helped me with college applications and scholarships,” says Charles, who will start at Washington State University this fall. “They paid for my Running Start fees, so I received my high school diploma and community college degree at the same time.”

In addition to being a participant in the program since 7th grade, Charles was hired as a GEAR UP tutor and was able to save money for college while helping his peers to succeed academically.

He participated in many of GEAR UP’s workshops, camps, and other events.

“My favorite GEAR UP event was a field trip to Blake Island and Tillicum Village. We explored the area and learned about the food, dance, and art of Northwest Indian Tribes. We ate a traditional meal and saw a traditional dance.”

Even though being a college freshman will surely look different this year because of COVID-19, Charles is excited about what is to come. “What I am looking forward to most at WSU is meeting new people and taking classes on campus so I can find the career I am most interested in pursuing.”

Dawn Miller is proud of her student’s accomplishments, including his involvement in the local community. “Charlie has taken advantage of many GEAR UP opportunities. It has been a pleasure to see him grow up into an amazing young man."

Dawn will continue to stay in contact with Charles and all of her students who are headed off to college or into the workforce, offering them support during this significant life transition. Simultaneously, she will work diligently with GEAR UP’s rising seniors to make sure that they, too, have the opportunity to succeed.

Juan Poré - Be the Change

Photo of Juan Pore

I had very little help and support navigating the educational system, especially higher-ed. Now, I work passionately to provide my students with the support that I only dreamed I could have.

-Juan Poré, GEAR UP Site Director

In his six years as a GEAR UP site director, Juan Poré has inspired thousands of students on their educational journeys. Juan organizes events and tutoring at Quincy High School through GEAR UP, a 100% federally funded program that helps low-income middle and high school students prepare for post-secondary education. GEAR UP’s mission is to help under-represented students achieve their academic, career, and life goals.

"I stumbled and made some big mistakes along my educational path,” says Juan, who was the first person in his family to go to college. “I wish I had a program like GEAR UP. Sometimes it's not even about the resources as much as it is having the support of someone who has been through the process of going to school and making it to completion. That type of guidance and support is so monumental."

CWU GEAR UP has 17 site directors in high schools throughout North Central Washington. Like Juan, these site directors organize college tours and summer camps, provide academic support, and guide families through the financial aid process. Since one of the program’s goals is to increase rigor in STEM academics, students also have the opportunity to participate in the Science Connections Team, including robotics.

One thing that makes CWU GEAR UP special is its embrace of uniqueness and diversity. The site directors come from myriad ethnic and educational backgrounds. Each brings to their work a passion for education and youth empowerment. Site directors do a lot of listening and are part of the social support network at the high schools.

Juan also co-manages GEAR UP's Student Ambassador Program. The ambassadors, who attend colleges throughout Washington, help students transition to post-secondary life.

GEAR UP's commitment to the Class of 2020 will extend through the students' first year of college. The extra support is crucial. Most students in the GEAR UP cohort are, like Juan, first-generation college students. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, dropout rates are higher for "first-gen" students: Thirty-three percent drop out by their third year of college, compared with 25% of students whose parents have college degrees.

Juan, who has two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree, plans on continuing his own academic career by pursuing a PhD or Doctorate of Education at a prestigious institution.

Juan’s important work has not gone unnoticed. He was recently recognized by the Eastern Washington Affiliate of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). But he doesn’t do this job for the accolades. His purpose is deeper than that.

The one thing Juan would like to be known for is his ability to build relationships with the students he serves.

“It is my honor to be surrounded by our youth,” he says. “They consistently give me life. I understand the struggle that many students face. I can relate to the fear of the unknown when it comes to navigating these spaces. I hope to serve as a beacon for my students.”