Two Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services researchers received the largest single source of funding in Utah State University history last month.

Jim Dorward and Eric Packenham will use the $32.8 million to support a second cohort of GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) students.

Intended to lessen the performance gap between student groups based on income, GEAR UP programs strive to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in college. Dorward and Packenham facilitate the GEAR UP curriculum andprograming in the partnering junior high and high schools.

“This includes having GEAR UP students take a series of core classes, provide tutoring and counseling services, and organize extra-curricular actives such as the electric car project, field trips and campus visits,” Dorward said.

In accordance with national requirements, the GEAR UP program follows cohorts of students from seventh grade to their first year of college.

USU is one of 15 state grantees that formed the College and Career Readiness Evaluation Consortium (CCREC), making them a forerunner in demonstrating the impact of GEAR UP programs across local, state and national levels of implementation.

Built on evidence that students with an interest in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) disciplines and with STEM training have higher rates of college preparedness, USU’s GEAR UP provides STEM opportunities for students in participating schools.

In partnership with USU’s Department of Engineering, students from nine schools had the opportunity to design and build a single-seat electric car. Students then raced these cars on the Electric Vehicle Roadway (EVR), a track designed to charge vehicles while in motion through inductive power transfer pads embedded in the track. Though this feature wasn’t used, students were introduced to cutting-edge technologies.

“The electric cars (help) kids develop all sorts of skills such as 3-D imagery and computer-aided design,” Packenham said. “We hope experiences like this plant a seed and that our students will continue to impact and create new solutions in these technologies.”

Equally important in the GEAR UP program is getting kids on college campuses. Events such as the One Day University program brought students from Mount Logan Middle School to experience university life through their choice of two different seminars, lunch at USU’s Junction and a demonstration by the Society of Physics students.

“These kids want to be successful but they can’t see themselves in college yet,” Packenham said. “We have the pleasure of helping make their dreams realities.”

Dorward and Packenham first received funding in 2012 to support their first cohort of 3,300 students. This recently awarded grant allows them to expand their support to a second cohort of students from nine low-income middle schools across that state. In total, they are following over 6,000 students.

“It’s a big responsibility to keep track of so many students,” Dorward said. “We couldn’t do what we do without the strong relationships and support from superintendents and partnering schools across the state. ”