Las Vegas, N.M. – A record number of approximately 900 middle and high school students from across the state visited the New Mexico Highlands campus Feb. 28 to get a head start on becoming college students.
The students were on campus for a GEAR UP New Mexico college visit Highlands co-hosted. GEAR UP stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.
“Visiting Highlands gives students from rural New Mexico districts an important opportunity to experience a college campus and interact with faculty, staff and students,” said Corine Frankland, GEAR-UP New Mexico state coordinator. “This helps makes college seem real and attainable in their minds, which is especially important for those who are the first in their family to pursue college.”
Frankland said one of GEAR UP’s most important goals is to encourage the college-going culture within the 11 school districts it serves in New Mexico.
“Highlands has been incredibly responsive in tailoring the campus tours and other activities for the GEAR UP students’ needs. The event has been a strong partnership with the university,” Frankland said.
GEAR UP students from Grants, Jemez, Pecos, Shiprock, Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Mora, Los Lunas and Penasco got a taste of college life at Highlands.
Highlands President Sam Minner welcomed the GEAR UP students to campus, urging them not to waiver in their path to post-secondary education.
“The salary premium for college grads continues to rise while the number of jobs for those with just a high school education is shrinking fast,” Minner said. “Career outcomes for our Highlands graduates are very strong. Higher education is a good way to earn significantly more income, as well as be healthier, happier and more engaged in your community. College also helps you be more appreciative of the beauty and diversity of the world we live in, and live a life of deep meaning and purpose.”
Minner said Highlands offers its students great value, a combination of quality and affordability, along with a vibrant campus life experience.
“At HU we’re all about your success. We hire faculty who care about you as individuals and provide the student support systems you need. I ask that you give Highlands a hard look and join our family,” Minner said.
The Highlands offices of Academic Support, Student Recruitment and Undergraduate Admissions, Student Affairs, and Facility Services collaborated for the GEAR UP event.
Internationally known motivational speaker Manny Scott delivered the keynote address. Scott overcame extreme adversity as a youth to become a successful author and CEO of Ink International Inc., an education consulting firm that has empowered more than 1.5-million people to improve the quality of their lives. Scott is one of the freedom writers featured in the 2007 hit movie Freedom Writers, a story about at-risk high school students based upon a true story.
“You need an education to survive in the world today,” Scott said. “Every one of you can go to college and build a life for yourself, no matter how hard your circumstances might be now. You can be anything you want to be and don’t ever give up on your dream. Always remember that you have the courage and strength to persevere.”
Rianna Lopez and Isaiah Armijo are 16-year-old Pecos High School sophomores who participated in the GEAR UP event.
“Being at Highlands today really makes me think about my future and definitely makes me want to go to college,” Lopez said. “Everyone here is friendly and welcoming.”
Armijo said: “It’s energizing to be at Highlands today and reinforces my idea to come to school here and maybe study forestry or animal science.”
Dominick Baca, Pecos GEAR UP coordinator and Highlands alumnus and former Cowboy basketball player, said GEAR UP works to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in college.
“This GEAR UP event allows us the exciting opportunity to showcase our campus to prospective college-bound students from New Mexico,” said Jessica Jaramillo, director, Highlands Office of Student Recruitment and Undergraduate Admissions.
GEAR Up is a federal grant at the New Mexico Higher Education Department designed to increase the number of students who graduate from high school and enroll in postsecondary education.