Originally published in the Herald-Dispatch on June 27, 2018.
HUNTINGTON – College-level courses might prepare high school students for the academic rigors of university life, but adapting to physically maneuvering and living on campus is a different skill often left undeveloped.
But for four days this week, more than 220 of West Virginia’s rising high school juniors will be treated to a taste of campus life as Marshall University hosts GEAR UP U Wednesday, June 27, through Saturday, June 30, in Huntington. The event is organized by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.
The annual camp provides an opportunity for high schoolers to develop useful leadership and communication skills, preparing juniors for the college application process, and demonstrating what they can do now to prepare for a future in college.
“The best way to help students prepare for postsecondary education is to put them on a college campus to experience the atmosphere firsthand, and GEAR UP U gives them an authentic college experience,” said Paul L. Hill, chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. “By the time their senior year of high school arrives, students will have already been on a number of college campuses all across the state of West Virginia, making the choice just a little easier.”
GEAR UP – “Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs” – is a federally funded, nationwide program created to aid students from low-income areas who strive for postsecondary education. The program selects students from 10 counties in West Virginia: Boone, Fayette, Mason, Mercer, Mingo, Nicholas, Summers, Webster, Wirt and Wyoming.
While GEAR UP programming benefits students as young as seventh grade, GEAR UP U is an annual summer camp hosted at a different West Virginia college each year. Concord University hosted the camp in 2017, and West Virginia State University in 2016.
The experience can be an eye-opener for many students from rural West Virginia, like Samantha Graffius. A Madison, Boone County, native and 2014 graduate of Scott High School, Graffius was involved with GEAR UP from seventh grade on.
Graffius attended GEAR UP U camps at both Concord and Glenville State College, which helped prepare her path toward her bachelor’s degree in communications disorders from Marshall University in 2018.
“At the time, I don’t think I understood what I was learning until I got to college, but once I was at college I understood that what I was learning (at GEAR UP U) was preparing me for everything,” Graffius said. “It was 100 percent beneficial, and I’m really thankful I went through it.”
Graffius will pursue her master’s degree in communications disorders at Marshall this fall.