University of Wisconsin–Madison


Gaining Early Awareness & Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP)

Federal GEAR UP Program:

GEAR UP (gaining early awareness and readiness for undergraduate programs), is designed to help low-income students succeed in secondary schools so that they graduate and go onto an institution of higher education. In 2011, Governor Scott Walker designated the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction/Wisconsin Educational Opportunity Program (WEOP), as the sole state agency to administer the federal GEAR UP Grant.

The mission of the GEAR UP program is to provide early intervention and college awareness programs and services to a total of 2,700 priority students in grades 6 through 12 in targeted schools/districts throughout the state.

  • The GEAR UP Program provides information about:
  • Ways to succeed academically and socially in school
  • The importance of taking rigorous courses
  • Study Skills and Time Management
  • Financial Literacy
  • ACT Preparation
  • Differences between 2 and 4 year public and private colleges and universities
  • High School graduation requirements
  • Career Counseling
  • College Entrance Requirements
  • Financial Aid Resources

WEOP has defined 4 objectives to meet the goals of the State GEAR UP Grant:

  1. 100% of the students will be encouraged to enroll in rigorous academic courses for high school preparation, graduation, and college admission.
  2. 90% of the priority students will graduate from high school each year and 80% will continue their education beyond high school.
  3. 50% of the GEAR UP priority students and parents will increase their knowledge of college and career readiness.
  4. 75% of the school district staff who participate in professional development opportunities will increase their knowledge of college and career readiness.

Kevin Navarro Headshot

Kevin Navarro

Madison East High School
University of Wisconsin-Madison

His Community Service Story

Sometimes the best learning experiences come in the most unexpected of places. That’s what happened to Kevin, who became involved with the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program (GEAR-UP). It introduced him to the Youth Leadership Board, where his fellow members decided to help tutor local elementary school children. Initially, Kevin was reluctant to participate as he felt he would gain more valuable experience from working with adults. However, being a mentor to the students taught him so much more than what he thought—everything from patience to problem solving as he helped children with reading activities. The experience inspired Kevin not only to be a role model for these kids, but for his younger sisters and people throughout his community. In fact, one day he’d like to work at a community center helping prepare teens for college. Kevin was a member of the National Honor Society, Honors Language Society and president of AVID/Tops. He also played junior varsity tennis and soccer and was a member of the Pre-Enrichment Opportunity for Learning Experience program. Kevin received the Service-E Pin for completing more than 50 hours of community service per year and GEAR-UP’s highest GPA and Program participation award. In addition, he was a Link Crew member and volunteered at Barnes & Noble, Sandburg Elementary School and a local food pantry.


Students must qualify for free or reduced meals and attend targeted schools ( grades 6-12) in the following school districts: Ashland, Eau Claire, Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee, Racine, Wausau, and DC Everest. Counselors, teachers, school administers, agency staff, or parents may refer students for enrollment and self-referrals will also be considered. There is no cost to the students and all major expenses are covered by the federal GEAR UP grant.

Participants in the program are expected to:

  • Make a commitment to remain in the program until they graduate from high school
  • Actively participate in scheduled activities
  • Have a desire to go onto college
  • Have a willingness to work hard academically
  • Follow the rules and policies of the federal program and WEOP agency

GEAR UP Scholarship:

All students enrolled in the GEAR UP program may receive a college scholarship if they meet the following criteria:

  • Student is less than 22 years of age at the time of the award of their first scholarship
  • Student received a secondary school diploma or it’s recognized equivalent on or after January 1, 1993
  • Student is enrolled or accepted for enrollment in an accredited institution of higher education located in Wisconsin ( 2 or 4 year public or private college or university).
  • Student participated in the GEAR UP program while in middle or high school

The average scholarship award is between $2,000 and $3,000 and can be renewed for an additional 8 consecutive semesters of continuous enrollment.

Outreach Component:

GEAR UP also provides college access services to an additional 400 high school juniors and seniors in non-targeted schools throughout the state. These students can also receive a GEAR UP scholarship.

Parent Component:

WEOP staff provides workshops, training, and /or programs designed to provide opportunities for parents to obtain the skills needed to help their child have positive educational experiences. Workshop topics include:

  • Tools for helping students succeed in school
  • The importance of students taking rigorous courses
  • Financial Literacy
  • High School Graduation Requirements
  • College admission process
  • Financial Aid Resources

Target Schools for GEAR UP:

  • Ashland Middle School
  • Ashland High School
  • DC Everest Jr. High School
  • Eau Claire North High School
  • Eau Claire South Middle School
  • Eau Claire Delong Middle School
  • Eau Claire Memoria High School
  • Eau Claire Northstar Middle School
  • Green Bay Edison Middle School
  • Green Bay Franklin Middle School
  • Green Bay Lombardi Middle School
  • Green Bay West High School
  • Green Bay Preble High School
  • Madison Black Hawk Middle School
  • Madison East High School
  • Madison Sherman Middle School
  • Madison OKeefe Middle School
  • Milwaukee Barack Obama School of Career & Tech. Ed.
  • Milwaukee Bradley Tech High School
  • Milwaukee Carmen High School
  • Milwaukee Cass Street Elementary
  • Milwaukee Congress Elementary
  • Milwaukee Hamilton High School
  • Milwaukee High School of the Arts
  • Milwaukee James Madison Academic Campus
  • Milwaukee Pulaski High School
  • Milwaukee Riverside High School
  • Milwaukee Ronald Reagan High School
  • Milwaukee Rufus King High School
  • Milwaukee South Division High School
  • Milwaukee Thurston Woods Middle School
  • Milwaukee Westside Academy
  • Milwaukee Bayview High School
  • Milwaukee Vieau Elementary
  • Racine Gilmore Middle School
  • Racine McKinley Middle School
  • Racine Park High School
  • Racine Horlick High School
  • Racine Jerstad Middle School
  • Wausau Horace Mann Middle School
  • Wausau DC Everest High School
  • Wausau DC Everest Middle School
  • Wausau East High School
  • Wausau John Muir High School
  • Wausau West High School

Application Process:

Students interested in enrolling in the GEAR UP Program must complete a WEOP application form and submit it to the WEOP office closest to where their hometown is located or contact their local WEOP office with questions.

DPI-WEOP Student Application:

WEOP has seven statewide offices: Ashland, Eau Claire, Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee, Racine and Wausau.


The GEAR UP program is a multi-year commitment to the students of Multiplex North, Northwest, Custer, Pulaski and South Division High Schools. Starting with 6th and 7th grade in 2005-06, we will follow those students through high school graduation and provide them with academic support and advising that will better prepare them for high school and ultimately college.

GEAR UP also strives to expose students and their families to college campuses and increase their knowledge of post-secondary options, available financial aid and scholarships, high school courses needed to enter college and other entrance requirements. In addition, GEAR UP strives to facilitate target school teachers’ participation in professional development programs.


  • Help students increase their reading scores
  • Help students increase their performance in math
  • Increase parental knowledge of college entrance requirements, college costs and the availability of financial aid.
  • Provide professional development to the staff of GEAR UP schools
  • Increase student knowledge of college entrance requirements, college costs and the availability of financial aid.

Students in the 10th and 11th grade and who are attending Custer, Northwest Secondary, North Multiplex, Pulaski and South Division high school are eligible to participate. Students are eligible if they attend one of the target schools and are in 10th and 11th grade this year. An application/parental consent form should be completed to fully participate. Please see your GEAR UP advisor at your school ( Custer, Northwest Secondary, North Multiplex, Pulaski or South Division) to complete an application. There are no fees for any GEAR UP service. GEAR UP is a federally funded program.