Newport High School ASPIRE coordinator Melinda Dye (right) serves on the GEAR UP Team and helps coordinate schoolwide events like College Application Week.

Over half of Oregon GEAR UP schools participate in ASPIRE, the state's mentoring program that helps students access education and training beyond high school. The program matches trained, supportive adult volunteer mentors with middle and high school students to help them develop a plan that meets their career and education goals.

The mentoring program fills a component of Oregon GEAR UP's broader, school-wide model for college and career readiness: to help students build relationships with caring adults.

"GEAR UP is about changing the culture...with the hope being that the ASPIRE mentors would see an increase in the number of students coming to their advising sessions," said Brent Caulley, the GEAR UP coordinator at McKenzie River Community School.

The mentors help provide one-on-one attention to participating students. For example, mentors at McKenzie River Community School provide a second set of eyes for college and scholarship essays. "We are also currently going on college trips [with ASPIRE]," said Caulley. "This is one way that we are making our college trips the future."

Schools benefit from coordination between the programs. Lowell Junior/Senior High School has a strong partnership between GEAR UP coordinator Jeanie May and ASPIRE coordinator Karen Cardwell. "Together, ASPIRE and GEAR UP reach the needs of our students by coordinating financial aid meetings, College Application Week, and senior scholarship and test prep. We respect each others' jobs and get along so well that our students benefit from our unity."

The programs complement and support each other: “GEAR UP has been an invaluable partner for many years. Their outreach efforts to Oregon communities and carefully developed resources for educators help ASPIRE volunteers and coordinators give excellent guidance and mentorship to students across the state," said Lori Ellis, administrator for the ASPIRE program.