KUTZTOWN, PA – More than $194,000 in funds and materials has been awarded to Kutztown University through the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant. The grant will fund KU’s GEAR-UP Summer Bridge program (GSB), providing support in conjunction with the Summer Talent Academy for Rising Stars (STARS) program for participating students.
KU earned the grant with the proposed implementation of the GSB program, based on its affiliation with the established, effective STARS program. More than 90% of STARS students successfully completed the Summer Bridge program, matriculating in the fall semester. The first-year retention rate of 2018 STARS students was 88%, much higher than the national average.
“The reputation of the STARS program is solid in terms of success,” said Dr. Andrea Kirshman, associate provost for Retention and Student Success. “These students are being retained and achieving at high rates compared to the average student population. Two summers of observation and documentation has proven that STARS is successful and to be able to capitalize on that success and be able to assist 30 students from Allentown, Norristown and Harrisburg School Districts through the GEAR UP Summer Bridge is amazing. It’s an awesome opportunity.”
The GEAR UP grant, a federal grant provided through the U.S. Department of Education, supports a comprehensive effort designed to better prepare students in under-served school districts for college and to help ensure their success. Universities help develop programming, provide opportunities to experience college life and host campus visits, summer camps and workshops.
The STARS program accepts up to 50 students at a significantly reduced cost of $3,500 ($3,603 for non-PA residents). This cost will cover tuition, fees, housing, meals, books, social activities and all program-requirement costs. The GEAR UP grant provided to the GSB will cover the STARS cost for a goal of 30 participating students, granting them everything included in the STARS program as well as other embellishments that are exclusive to GSB participants. Some of these embellishments include experiences such as a dinner with Dr. Kenneth S. Hawkinson, president of Kutztown University, and supplies such as new laptops to students in the program.
GSB students, as part of the STARS program are required to take two college-level courses over the summer, participate in student success and career exploration workshops, engage socially in activities designed to build peer networks, meet with professors, mentors, and student success coordinators and reside in on-campus residence halls. Those students who are successful in their courses will be admitted to Kutztown University in the fall semester with credits already on their transcripts.
“This program further accentuates Kutztown being a warm and welcoming community to all students,” said Dr. Warren Hilton, vice president of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs. “What is so special about KU and this program is that GSB students get a warm welcome and have the opportunity to adjust and hit the ground running in the fall, where other freshman may still be adjusting. These students already know where to go, what to expect, have relationships with peers, faculty, staff and administrators and continue to have support for anything else that comes up.”
New KU admission and high school senior in Building 21 of Allentown, Pa., Nicholas Cruz, began his journey into the GSB and STARS programs as a freshman in high school. He was part of a different GEAR UP grant, geared toward high school students, taking students like Cruz to tour potential universities. After feeling completely at home during the KU tour, Cruz continued in the Upward Bound Program, where he spent a full week living on campus, getting a taste of real college life in both his sophomore and junior year.
“It was amazing,” Cruz said of the experience. “I got to feel what it was like to live at college, on the campus. We went to lecture halls and I could see myself sit through it, be ready, be here and enjoy my college experience.”
One of the first students to participate and go through the GSB program, Cruz expressed his excitement to have the choice and be accepted to KU.
“Kutztown feels like home. You can be far away from where you started, but it still feels like home. I feel proud to say I’m a Golden Bear. It’s been amazing to have such a long experience with the university, then be accepted and to finally start in the summer,” Cruz said.
Hilton and Kirshman, as key players in a vast team of KU employees essential to the application and successful acquisition of the GSB Program, look forward to the program expanding further to be able to accommodate more students like Cruz. They hope the program will continue to grow and offer more services and supports as the years progress.
Recent alumnus, Donnell Gordon, said of his experience, “having been a first-generation college student, I didn’t have the knowledge at home that would help me to prepare. The program really helped. There were people who were there for me throughout the entire transition. The connections I made through the program helped guide me into the professional world. I was introduced to the discourse and settings that prepared me for entering the career job market. Anyone eligible should apply.”