Gear Up Iowa Guides Students to Success


by Taylor Hoffman, Staff Reporter

Among the first-year students Simpson welcomed to campus this fall, 28 were a part of Gear Up Iowa, a federally funded program that promotes academic and personal success among students through year-long programming and additional peer-mentoring outside of SC-101.

Gear Up Iowa is a seven-year program that began when the students were in seventh grade. This program is meant to support them through their first year of college. The purpose of the program is to create a college-going culture among middle and high school students and to help them succeed in and graduate from college.

Simpson received a grant to provide programming for their group of Gear Up Iowa students. The Gear Up Simpson programming includes three main components: an online summer college prep course, access to an additional SC leader and writing fellow specific to the Gear Up Iowa students, and a winter retreat later in the year.

The students will also have access to campus resources and programming throughout the semester.

“We’re in development for a couple of programs right now. One is specifically focused on networking and relationship building among the Gear Up Iowa students. The other is focused on managing your finances as a college student,” said Anna Pena, the director of first-year experience at Simpson. “We’re also developing a specific Moodle course that Gear Up Iowa students will have access to with resources, information, contacts, scheduling, and more.”

Two resources the Gear Up Iowa students have access to throughout the academic year are their SC leader and writing fellow. Sophomore Alyssa Whitham is the SC leader for the program. Donni Kinghorn, also a sophomore is the program’s writing fellow.

“We provide extra support for the Gear Up Iowa students,” Kinghorn said. “They will still have their traditional writing fellow and SC leader through their SC class, but we’re an additional resource for them throughout their first year.”

“In the first semester, we’re not needed as much. The second semester is when we really come in. We’ll act as the writing fellow and SC leader when they no longer have one,” Whitham said.

Due to COVID-19, Kinghorn and Whitham have shifted their focus for the fall semester.

“With COVID-19, our goals are more so focused on making sure our students get out and start participating in the resources that Simpson is already providing,” Whitham said. “We want to give the students opportunities to get to know one another.”

Robbie Wagner is one of the first-years in the Gear Up Iowa program. Through the program, Wagner has access to resources in academic, professional, and personal development.

“Most of the need I have is in professional development, rather than academic development. I appreciate the programs on topics like time management, budgeting, and financial skill,” Wagner said.

In particular, Wagner emphasized the importance of the program in helping first-year students adjust to college.

“Adjusting to college is quite a leap from high school, and having help through that transition makes it a lot easier. I love that Gear Up can help people make a smooth transition to college so they can be successful at the start instead of having to struggle for a while before finding their footing,” Wagner said.

Pena also acknowledged the benefits of programs like Gear Up Iowa in helping first-year students transition to college.

“What we’d like to do is learn from this program and evaluate strategies to be able to implement for future first-year programs,” Pena said. “If we find an effective strategy for success for these students, we may look at continuation for some of the programming.”