GEAR UP Capacity Building Workshop Strengthens Programs

GEAR UP Capacity Building Conference, Philadelphia, PA February 8-11, 2015


National calls emphasizing the importance of capacity building for sustainable development of grant funded education programs have been numerous.  The U.S. Department of Education in partnership with NCCEP continues to invest time and attention to capacity building for successful programs like GEAR UP.  Since 1999, the importance of these efforts has been embedded in the proposals and goals of NCCEP with support and programming based on continuous feedback, research, and professional best practices.

The February 2015 capacity building workshops were held in Philadelphia, PA the hometown of Congressman Chaka Fattah, the founder of the GEAR UP program.  Full-day training modules were designed based on pre-survey information and input from NCCEP and feedback from GEAR UP directors.  Participants were required to submit a self-assessment questionnaire in advance of the training to introduce them to the learning goals and to ensure maximum effectiveness based on participants responses. Time was provided during the sessions for facilitated networking to encourage building peer networks, deeper learning, and to create connections between programs.


Photo: Congressman Chaka Fattah with Kay Coelho and Brad Trimble

Why Conference Attendance Matters

Whether you are a newcomer to GEAR UP or a seasoned participant, capacity building presents multiple approaches to enlighten, inspire and inform your work.  Many conferences concentrate tremendous efforton the concrete material outcomes and far less on practical, tangible and significant outcomes that do not translate monetarily: the feeling of belonging to a group with shared professional interests and commitment to the work, applicable content knowledge from presentations and vendors, networking and interacting withpeers and experts in the field.  Attending presentations, when there are so many to choose from can be a hit-or-miss adventure.  The value of this experience is unique to each individual which is why NCCEP works hard to fully engage the audience in these conferences.  

“When I was a GEAR UP coordinator, attending conferences gave me more confidence and assurance because I learned that I was doing the right thing in my work and also that I could “step things up” by trying other methods, incorporating technology, and doing more investigating through further research. These simple changes can have a powerful effect on your professional philosophy and practices, often without your being aware of it.  It also serves to remind you of the importance of remaining open to change, being a team player and sharpening your skills.”

Sean Brennan-California GEAR UP

CBW1.jpg-largePhoto: Participants at opening session of the conference

Building Capacity

Education professionals typically use the term capacity in reference to the perceived abilities, skills, and expertise of school leaders, teachers, faculties, and staffs—most commonly when describing the “capacity” of an individual or school to execute or accomplish something specific, such as leading a school-improvement effort or teaching more effectively. The term may also encompass the quality of adaptation—the ability of a school or educator to grow, progress, or improve. Common variations include educator capacity, leadership capacity, school capacity, and teacher capacity, among others.  The impact of this experience is described here by a first time attendee, Kay Coelho:

I am grateful for all that I learned and the connections made at the conference. I believe that the California GEAR UP program… will in many cases have the fortunate opportunity to be the “first” to inspire and motivate youth and communities.  The first to give a member of our communities confidence to understand their individuality, attend a higher education institute and change the course of their life. Be it a young person, a single mother, an only parent, or a community member. We will give an individual their first opportunity to succeed at college and a career.

Overall the Capacity Building Workshop in Philadelphia gave me ideas on how we can collaborate more efficiently together as a team. It gave me insight toward understanding that in order to build a strong team, we need to understand each other’s’ compelling WHY and complement each other. We should work with each other and not against each other, to be the first to inspire and motivate, and change the course of an individual’s future.

Once we understand WHY we do this work, we can explore HOW we do it, create a plan and inspire the compelling WHY for others.

Kay Francesca Coelho-California GEAR UP

California Partnership Initiative (CPI): A Call to Action

“We should be complementary, and not in competition,” said Whole School Services Coach Brad Trimble, during the California Partnership Initiative meeting hosted by California State GEAR UP the first evening of the conference.  According to Shelley Davis, Director of California GEAR UP: “The initiative has been created to formalize the collaboration of the State GEAR UP program and GEAR UP partnership projects.  This statewide effort will strengthen our network and build upon our good work in service to schools, students, families and communities.  We must be intentional about working together to improve school culture and to ensure college and career readiness for all students.”

CPI was designed in response to the national call for GEAR UP programs to operate more co-operatively within regions, to create a support network of professionals with similar work, challenges, and programatic goals. A long standing component of GEAR UP has been innovation and creative program design.

“I feel it is important for the California GEAR UP programs to collaborate because together we can achieve more. We strengthen each other, learn from each other, and provide support for each other. I have 30 years of experience with college access programs, including TRIO, and I know that these programs and the staff who provide direct services would not have been as effective as they are without collaboration and support from other programs staff. We cannot operate in silos. We can create bigger and more lasting change together;  we can influence people, especially policy makers, together.  Ultimately this collaboration will benefit our students, our families, and our State.”

Sue B. Huizinga–Associate Director, Regional Services College OPTIONS/GEAR UP Programs


Photo: Palomar College GEAR UP Team at CPI Meeting

CPI will follow up with plans to meet at the National GEAR UP Conference in July in San Francisco.  For more information on the State GEAR UP programs and GEAR UP partnership projects check out the interactive map on our website at

Sessions Designed by and for Attendees

In the true spirit of capacity building, tracks were selected based on the feedback from the 2014 CBW and in direct response to identified needs of GEAR UP program participants.  Ahead of the conference, all registrants responded to a series of questions and surveys that directed the content and format of the available sessions.

The 2015 CBW workshop tracks were as follows: The Directors’ Network, GEAR UP 101, Parent Engagement, Evaluation Showcase, Grant Management, Advancing College Readiness, Strategies for First-Year Post-Secondary Success, The Coordinators’ Catalyst Network, Helping Students Earn College Credit in High School, and Closing Gaps in STEM Learning and Careers.  The CBW also offered five general sessions and several roundtable discussion sessions.

Directors Track

“I was fortunate to co-facilitate a Roundtable session with the program director from Massachusetts GEAR UP, Robert Dais. We chose an open space format that flowed very well as participants discussed common challenges and successes across four areas of our work as State programs. Even though the session was on the last day and just before lunch, the room was full and energy was high with lots of sharing.  We collected ideas from this session that will be shared with NCCEP and with our program in regional events and through the California Partnership Initiative.  We all bring teams from our staffs to this conference and bring back valuable information, tools and ideas, many of which stem from professional connections made with other participants from throughout the country.”

Shelley Davis-California GEAR UP 


Photo:  Participants enjoy networking at the conference

Roundtable discussions are among the most flexible format offered at the conference, and may look quite different from session to session. The one thing that they have in common is that each allows for extended discussion among a small group. Roundtables are excellent venues for giving and receiving targeted feedback, having in-depth discussions, and meeting colleagues with similar interests. Grantees from CA were very impressed with this format and felt the discussion allowed them to gain a deeper understanding of their work while learning from the professionals in the room. Many remarked this was the highlight of the conference as it helped them learn while creating a network that will support them in their work at home.

Materials and other information from the conference sessions are found on the NCCCEP website. 


Join Us for 2015 GEAR UP Capacity Building Conference


#gearupworks #cbw15

The 2015 NCCEP/GEAR UP Capacity-Building Workshop will take place February 8-11, 2015 at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown in historic and vibrant Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The NCCEP/GEAR UP Capacity-Building Workshop is a distinctly different learning opportunity from the NCCEP/GEAR UP Annual Conference. The CBW is where grantees roll up their sleeves and have extended conversations with their peers about how to advance the cause of college access.

The daily learning tracks are designed to provide information, practical tips, and tools that you and your GEAR UP team can incorporate into your current projects. Networking opportunities allow you to connect with GEAR UP professionals from other projects to share ways to strengthen your GEAR UP programming. Roundtables are offered as another venue to explore ideas with colleagues in a smaller, informal setting.Our colleagues at the U.S. Department of Education will also provide additional training for all current grantees.

  • Interact with and learn from top experts and experienced GEAR UP professionals in hands-on workshop tracks highlighting high-priority issues in the field, innovative programs, leading research, and practical tools and strategies.
  • Engage in invaluable peer-to-peer learning and networking opportunities.

Click here to access the Advance Program, which includes a detailed overview of the 2015 CBW, information about the schedule and content for each workshop, and speaker bios.  (The Advance Program will be updated on an on-going basis. Check back on this site to get the most up-to-date detailed program for the CBW.)

Click here to register today!

The 2015 CBW workshop tracks are as follows: The Directors’ Network, GEAR UP 101, Parent Engagement, Evaluation Showcase, Grant Management, Advancing College Readiness, Strategies for First-Year Post-Secondary Success, The Coordinators’ Catalyst Network, Helping Students Earn College Credit in High School, and Closing Gaps in STEM Learning and Careers.  The CBW will also has five general sessions and several sessions of roundtable discussions.

Staff contacts for the 2015 CBW: Suzan Shimko, Director of Conferences, and John Donaldson, National Director for Training and Technical Assistance.

After reviewing the CBW program and deciding what workshops you plan to attend, you can begin the online registration process. To access the registration form for mail/fax, click here.

#gearupworks #cbw15



You may want to spend some time reflecting on your professional goals before attending a conference. Conferences can be highly effective at helping you advance a wide range of professional objectives. For example, they can help you build and extend professional contacts, find a mentor or collaborator, gain experience presenting original work, advance your subject matter expertise, extend your knowledge of resources, introduce you to new theory, methods or tools, gain ideas for new programs and workshops, develop new skills or simply refresh your interest in and enthusiasm for managing programs and working directly with students. Whatever the goal, be intentional in the way you seek to advance your professional identity, contacts and knowledge.  Don’t passively attend the conference use it to advance your career objectives!


There are normally a variety of session formats to select from including pre-conference workshops, panel discussions, team delivered presentations and of course single presenter presentations. Each offers a special experience and learning opportunity. Branch out a bit and see if you can sample a range of presentation approaches and styles.


It is easy to be overwhelmed by the range of activities happening during a conference. Spend some time before you go reading through the program to get a sense of what seems most interesting and relevant. Large conferences may also offer a common reading for thought and reflection and if these are accessed in advance they may add much to your overall conference experience. Taking the time to prepare in advance will help you feel more relaxed and organized once the conference begins. Conferences offer so much – it can be helpful to review, reflect and strategize in advance.


Conferences can be packed with interesting sessions and it can be hard to choose between interesting concurrent sessions. Although it may be tempting to attend individual sessions with trusted coworkers, consider asking your friends and workmates to spread out over the conference and attend different concurrent sessions. This strategy will ensure maximum exposure to what the conference has to offer.  Set some time aside to debrief and share materials and handouts with these workmates during breaks. This will help you gain access to much more of the conference than you could as a single attendee.


Raise your hand, offer a comment, tell a story, frame a challenge, suggest a solution, give an example, reflect, engage and engage others! Be an active rather than passive participate. Much of the learning that takes place at a conference happens through peer-to-peer sharing and interaction. You may also wish to consider volunteering at a conference. This can be a great way to gain professional experience and engage more fully in the conference as it is happening.


Choose to attend at least one conference presentation in an area that you are not familiar with. This might help you discover a new passion, resource or opportunity. Focus not only on extending existing knowledge and expertise, focus on growth.


Conferences are great ways to engage with your familiar and trusted workmates but make it a point to expand your professional contacts by introducing yourself to at least three new people. If you feel awkward approaching others, network with an extroverted friend who can help with introductions. You are likely to meet some amazing people.


Write down a few key takeaways from each session you attend. Consider how you might use what you learned in your professional practice. Be determined to take away at least one idea, tool, concept or bit of information that can be applied to your daily practice. Hang on to your handouts for future reference.


Attend the scheduled social events! These are actually a lot of fun and really help to extend the excitement, enthusiasm and energy of a conference. If you are shy, take a friend with you. Don’t be afraid to relax and mingle.


If you are one of only a few people in your immediate working group who is able to attend a conference you may want to focus on what you can take back to others who are not able to attend. Consider yourself an emissary for your entire working group and be committed to sharing what you learned with others. Bring conference highlights home by presenting to your department, host a brown bag debrief and share key takeaways with colleagues.


Use the business cards you collect at a conference in the future. Reach out to others and look for ways to share and collaborate on new projects. This is a great way to form and strengthen professional networks over time. The call for proposals closed on April 1, 2014.

#gearupworks #cbw15

California Proudly Hosts 2013 GEAR UP National Conference

The 2013 GEAR UP National Conference will be in San Francisco this year, and we are excited to share conference information and registration. This national convening of GEAR UP professionals, parents, students, policymakers, and community partners is coordinated by the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP) and planned in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education. The purpose of this conference is to highlight the importance of education/community partnerships and the accomplishments of the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP). This conference also serves to facilitate the forging of new alliances among faculty, to help attendees learn about other federal and foundation-sponsored college awareness efforts, to learn about other academic and student support programs, and to find new ways to engage local communities, businesses and professional associations in the work of GEAR UP partnerships. The conference is especially relevant to education practitioners, business leaders and policymakers who wish to learn more about creating and sustaining education collaboratives that can help improve public education and promote student academic achievement.

Roll Call of the GEAR UP States

The Roll Call of the GEAR UP States is a much-anticipated tradition at the Conference. Each state is called, celebrated, and cheered by the audience as a way to welcome all participants to an exciting few days of learning and sharing.

Concurrent Sessions

The conference program includes concurrent sessions focused on impacting middle school and high school students, their families, faculty and administrators, student services and college access professionals, program evaluators, parent involvement coordinators, business and community partners, and education policymakers. Sessions will include panels of experts, researchers, practitioners, how-to presentations, research presentations, and descriptions of the most effective GEAR UP practices. These sessions will present proven models and promising practices.

Plenary Sessions

Plenary sessions serve as the core of the conference curriculum and are designed to provide the context for concurrent session dialogues. Plenary sessions will feature nationally recognized individuals in the field of education and workforce development, as well as educational policymakers, political appointees, congressional staff, business leaders, and others who champion the cause of improving public education and making postsecondary education more accessible to underrepresented communities.

2013 NCCEP/GEAR UP Youth Congress
Sponsored by Texas Instruments

NCCEP’s Youth Congress is a youth leadership program that implements a student-focused curriculum, blending leadership development with life skills and strategies for increased learning. The Youth Congress is part of NCCEP’s Annual Conference being held this year in San Francisco from July 14 – 17, 2013.
GEAR UP youth who participate in the Youth Congress will have the opportunity to experience a professional conference while interacting and learning with other students from around the country. The students will learn strategies for increasing learning capacity, as well as relationship and communication skill-building. They will also experience leadership skill development, while strengthening their confidence to effectively tell their story.
GEAR UP Programs that wish to register students to participate in the 2013 Youth Congress must first register the student as part of the regular NCCEP Annual Conference registration. In order to be fully registered, the GEAR UP Program Director (or designee) must coordinate the completion of the necessary permission forms and guidelines for youth to participate. These forms can be completed and submitted prior to registration, or you can find a link to the forms as part of the registration.

For any questions or to learn more contact NCCEP’s Director of National Programs,
Click Here to download the 2013 form.

Post-Conference Events

NCCEP Evaluators’ Institute

Evaluators’ Institute 101 – The Basics of GEAR UP Evaluation

Wednesday, July 17 • 1:30 PM – 5:30 PM

Session Description: Evaluation has always been a necessary component of administrating a GEAR UP grant. While we often think of the U.S. Department of Education’s Annual Performance Report (APR) when it comes to evaluating GEAR UP, it is important to realize that this tool alone does not provide the depth and breadth needed to adequately evaluate individual GEAR UP programs or entire GEAR UP partnerships. Other evaluation is needed to continually improve our work and demonstrate the effectiveness of the GEAR UP program.
This workshop will provide participants with:
• An understanding of the GEAR UP Annual Performance Report (APR) and how to conduct effective program evaluation beyond the APR.
• An understanding of the types of program evaluations their GEAR UP grant should be undertaking.
• Tips for negotiating relationships with other GEAR UP program and institutional staff.
• An opportunity to interact with and learn from experienced GEAR UP evaluators.
• Materials and suggested topical resources for further exploration following the Institute.
Facilitated by GEAR UP evaluators, this session will provide new GEAR UP evaluators with a foundation for their critical evaluation work. Materials will be provided.

Who Should Attend? Evaluators new to the field or new to GEAR UP are encouraged to attend this session. A basic understanding of GEAR UP and evaluation methods is desirable, but not required.

Evaluators’ Institute 201 – An Introduction to Quantitative and Qualitative Analyses for GEAR UP Evaluators 
Wednesday, July 17 • 1:30 PM – 5:30 PM

Session Description: GEAR UP evaluation activities hold much promise to be more than a simple exercise of collecting and reporting APR data. However, once you have the data there are so many options for analyzing and reporting. Join seasoned GEAR UP evaluators and analysts to learn about specific quantitative and qualitative methodologies for analyzing GEAR UP data to answer some questions about your program.
Through the sharing of analytical knowledge by the GEAR UP evaluator community, this workshop will provide participants with:

Evaluators’ Institute 301 – Creating Comparison Groups through Propensity Score Matching 
Wednesday, July 17 • 1:30 PM – 5:30 PM

Session Description: GEAR UP evaluation has become more rigorous over the past few years. Grantees are encouraged to use comparison groups to analyze GEAR UP data. Given the limitations on educational research for experimental studies, Propensity Score Matching is a leading method for creating comparison groups for data analyses. To advance GEAR UP evaluation, GEAR UP grantees must evaluate their data in ways to answer questions about program effectiveness.

U.S. Department of Education GEAR UP Sessions

Annual Performance Report 
Wednesday, July 17 • 10:45 AM – 12:00 PM

The U.S. Department of Education will provide technical assistance designed to assist grantees in completing an Annual Performance Report (APR). Each grantee’s annual and cumulative result has a direct impact on the future of the GEAR UP program as appropriations are connected to program results aggregated from individual project data. This session will review the process for completing the web-based APR.

Documenting the Match
Wednesday, July 17 • 1:30 PM – 3:30 PM

This session is designed for GEAR UP project directors and budget representatives who want to learn about the rules and regulations associated with matching GEAR UP funds. The session will explore allowable, allocable and reasonable matching purchases as well as unallowable costs that grantees should avoid.

Final Performance Report 
Wednesday, July 17 • 3:30 PM – 4:30 PM

The U.S. Department of Education will provide information to grantees regarding the closeout of their grants. This session will include information about how to request a no-cost extension period and detailed information about the Final Performance Report that each grantee is required to file at the end of the grant performance period.

Click HERE or a complete conference description and registration information.


Register: 2013 GEAR UP Capacity Building Workshop

With the 2013 GEAR UP Capacity-Building Workshop (CBW) just around the corner, it is a good idea to get registered before the holidays!

The dates for the upcoming CBW are February 3 – 6, 2013 – at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. To learn about the tracks for the conference, the schedule and the hotel, click here.

The daily learning tracks at NCCEP’s Capacity-Building Workshop are designed to provide information and practical tips and tools that you and your GEAR UP team can incorporate into your current projects. There is also time to network with fellow GEAR UP professionals from other projects to hear about ways to strengthen GEAR UP programming. Roundtables are offered as another venue to explore ideas with colleagues in a smaller, informal setting. In keeping with the Capacity-Building Workshop approach, the general sessions provide both a networking time and a chance to hear speakers elaborate on the key issues facing higher education and the GEAR UP community today.

You don’t want to miss out on this valuable learning experience. I hope to see you in February at the CBW!

Nathan Monell, CAE
President & CEO
National Council for Community and Education Partnerships


California GEAR UP to Blog Live from 2010 National Conference

We will be collaborating with National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP) at this year’s GEAR UP National Conference in Washington D.C. July 18-21. In order to provide vital information to families, GEAR UP program staff, and college-going students across the country, California GEAR UP will be ‘live-blogging’ the entire conference and providing timely updates on Twitter and Facebook. This years conference is titled: GEARing UP For Excellence: Linking Programs, Practice and Policy. This conference will convene GEAR UP and other college access professionals, as well as their partners for informative concurrent sessions, exciting speakers, and valuable networking opportunities. Starting July 18, follow us as we blog live at the conference.

Some of the featured events at the conference include presentations by conference sponsors on resources such as student data systems, literacy improvement strategies, the role call of GEAR UP states (which is always exciting), keynote speakers such as Juan Williams and Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D., as well as timely and informative concurrent sessions for all attendees.

Here is the schedule at a glance.

Here is the list of confirmed keynote speakers.

Information for first time conference attendees.

Washington DC visitors guide.

Follow all the action on our blog HERE (link will be live starting Monday July 19).