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  • Writer's pictureCollege 1st Program

UTRGV GEAR UP Creates College-Ready Students

Updated: Sep 25, 2019

Future Engineers from Brownsville ISD design an earth-quake resistant structure during the UTRGV GEAR UP Career Exploration CAMP.

Brownsville, TX­–Teams of students tasked with constructing a high-rise in forty minutes work diligently and speedily. Students from Brownsville ISD huddle together intermittently throughout the activity, discussing the structural integrity of their K’nex edifices, as they race to make theirs the tallest building in the room. You would be hard-pressed to find a room where the intensity of competition was more profound. The activity is an inventive exercise in 21st century education that is similar in many ways to the ambitious initiative of UTRGV and the College 1st Program that designed it. UTRGV GEAR UP Career Exploration CAMPs operate within a context of burgeoning competition, where development in the Rio Grande Valley is built methodically atop a sturdy base. Without question, we are at the precipice of profound change. The digital age and global integration demand new skillsets for the jobs of tomorrow and college attainment has become more important than ever. For many in the Rio Grande Valley, a college degree has either remained elusive or seems like an unviable option. Many students are often unaware of the opportunities a college education can create.

“My mom never finished college, so I want to get a college degree to have a better job than her and be able to support her. I know that will make her extremely proud,” said Andrew Castro, Brownsville ISD student.

GEAR UP and the College 1st Program are collaborating in hopes to upend this trend, increase educational attainment, and expand opportunity by providing students with a breakdown of growing careers in the STEM fields and develop critical “soft-skills.” Lizbeth Garza, a student from Brownsville ISD, noted, “This CAMP positioned out the steps that I need to take to go to college and it made me understand that it is possible to pursue any career that I want.”

Through a series of hands-on activities that allow students to step into the shoes of engineers and medical professionals for a day, students develop a comprehensive set of “soft skills” – creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration – and practical skills. Amy Najera, aspiring nurse and Brownsville ISD student, said “the most exciting part of the day was when [she] learned to suture a wound.” “Learning about the engineering industry made me feel inspired to create designs all over Texas,” said Andrew Castro. Interspersed within these activities are visuals and lectures that provide students about the unique educational requirements, benefits and descriptions of various STEM-related careers. “GEAR-UP,” Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is part of a new, national $21.2 million initiative spearheaded by US Department of Education. UTRGV GEAR UP and the College 1st Program’s unique approach to closing post-secondary education attainment gaps is leading the way to economic development in the Rio Grande Valley. For more information about the College 1st program, please visit our website at or call us at 1-877-499-8544.

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