Samantha B. Bonar

Occidental College, in partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District, has been awarded a seven-year, $21-million GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) federal grant to increase the number of low-income students enrolling in college.


 One of only 60 grants awarded nationwide, and one of only two awarded in Los Angeles, the Oxy/LAUSD proposal received a perfect score. It is the fourth GEAR UP grant for the partnership since 1999, the year the grants began, and the ninth largest in the nation.

The newest award from the U.S. Department of Education, called GEAR UP 4 LA, will allow Occidental to continue to serve as lead partner in the grant and expand the college-prep activities it provides to middle and high school students in the Pico-Union and Mid-Wilshire communities of Los Angeles.

Additionally, there will be opportunities for participants to shadow current Occidental students and take part in a mentor camp and student panels. The grant also will fund teacher retreats, college fairs and high school fairs for middle school students. Occidental’s Education Department, which helped write and evaluate the seven-year plan, will play a major role in evaluation, training and professional development.

"GEAR UP 4 LA will allow us to take what we learned in the previous GEAR UP grants and implement it in new schools that need these types of services," said Jesus Maldonado, director of Occidental’s Neighborhood Partnership Programs. "In partnership with Occidental’s Education Department, we will be able to provide quality services that are evaluated and based on quality research to students in communities with high poverty, high drop-out rates, and low college-attendance rates. This partnership will also enrich the educational experience of current Occidental students who participate as mentors, tutors and workshop leaders."

The new award allows GEAR UP services to be offered at middle and high schools in the Pico-Union and  Mid-Wilshire communities of Los Angeles, forming a cohort of approximately 4,000 students. The program is being offered at schools within the Belmont Zone of Choice (Sal Castro Middle School, John Liechty Middle School, Virgil Middle School, Belmont High School, L.A. Teacher Prep Academy, Edward Roybal Learning Complex, Civitas, Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, Academic Leadership Community and L.A. Global Studies.) and the Robert F. Kennedy Zone of Choice (Berendo Middle School, Young Oak Kim Academy, Ambassador School of Global Leadership, New Open World Academy and UCLA Community School).

GEAR UP 4 LA program objectives include increasing the academic performance and preparation for post-secondary education for students, increasing the rate of high school graduation and participation in post-secondary education for students and increasing students’ and their families’ knowledge of post-secondary education options, preparation and financing.

Many of the students in the GEAR UP 4 LA cohort will be eligible to participate in Occidental’s Upward Bound program, which further helps prepare first-generation college-bound students from low-income backgrounds. Oxy’s Upward Bound program, launched in 1966, is one of the country’s original Upward Bound programs and is one of the largest and most successful in California.