Partners Making a Difference: Appalachian State University

Discovery Place

Discovery Place Education Studio was honored to be named a partner in Appalachian State University’s GEAR UP program – Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. With a goal of improving student achievement in STEM and preparing students to succeed in post-secondary education, GEAR UP aims to serve low-income students in Western North Carolina over the next seven years. The $30 million initiative will take a multi-faceted approach including programs to increase academic preparedness, improve life skills and build support networks for students. Discovery Place Education Studio will increase the capacity of the teachers who serve these students by providing professional development for educators throughout the 11 county region.

Jennifer Wilson-Kearse is the Executive Director of North Carolina Appalachian Collaborative for Higher Education and the Director of GEAR UP. We had the opportunity to sit down with Ms. Wilson-Kearse and get her perspective on this partnership:

What is GEAR UP?

J.W.K.: “GEAR UP is a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education with a primary objective of increasing enrollment in post-secondary education. We are targeting kids who live in rural communities in Western North Carolina and will eventually serve as many as 14,000 students from 11 counties. What’s tremendous about the opportunity is that it is a seven-year grant so we can start working with students in middle school and then follow them through high school to their first year in college. It’s the chance of a lifetime to touch and change the lives of so many students.”

How does STEM education play a role in GEAR UP?

J.W.K.: “One of our main areas of focus is to serve the people who support our students – their teachers and families. For educators, this means providing training to help them be effective and prepared for the classroom. We are particularly focused on STEM-related professional development because we know this is an area where a lot of jobs will be available in the future. We need to prepare our teachers if we want to prepare our students to be ready for the opportunities that will be available in college.”

Why did Appalachian State choose to partner with Discovery Place Education Studio for GEAR UP?

J.W.K.: “We’ve worked with Discovery Place very successfully in the past so were already familiar with their work. At Discovery Place, they spend every day thinking outside the box and trying to develop ways to make science education engaging and real for teachers and kids. We want to help teachers be creative and imaginative so that their classrooms move from passive to more engaged learning, and Discovery Place was the right partner to do that.

The wonderful thing about our partnership with Discovery Place Education Studio is that it is not a one shot-deal. It’s a web of support for the schools – from workshops for teachers to school visits. The Education Studio team has spent time with each school district to find out what is needed and has been able to customize the program to fit the interests. It’s going to be a great mix of serving a large number of teachers plus providing individualized support.”

We need to prepare our teachers if we want to prepare our students to be ready for the opportunities that will be available in college.
Jennifer Wilson-Kearse