Opportunities gets college-level learning in gear for younger students

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – After so much time spent learning virtually, GEAR UP student Lila Quintero is looking forward to being back in the classroom — even if it is the middle of summer vacation.

The rising sophomore at Santa Rosa ISD was on campus at Texas State Technical College among a group of students from different Region One school districts for a GEAR UP grant program summer camp.

“I came here to have more experience in engineering,” Quintero said. “Hopefully, it will be hands-on and not just looking at something like we have all year.”

She and the rest of her cohort experienced hands-on learning opportunities throughout the week at TSTC in three areas of study: Biomedical Equipment Technology, Culinary Arts and Precision Machining Technology.

Students interested in Biomedical Equipment Technology planned to focus on the fundamentals of electronics, including resistors, voltage and currents — and how to solder by building their own electronics kit.

While TSTC Biomedical Equipment Technology lab assistant Esmeralda Estrella said she was going to take it easy on her students the first day to get them acclimated to the subject, the week would be full of learning.

“I think it’s very important that they can see that there’s unlimited opportunities out there,” she said.

Culinary Arts students also had plenty to do, including gaining experience in cooking and baking while also garnishing plates and making smoothies with products from the program’s on-campus garden.

Chef Omar Duran, a TSTC Culinary Arts instructor, understands just how important proper training is to a successful career in the food industry — and how early experiences like GEAR UP empower future chefs.

“Number one, it builds leadership. It also builds teamwork,” he said. “It’s never too early to start them on that path — to get them in the right frame of mind to get them ready for college.”

Students on campus for Precision Machining Technology looked forward to creating a part called a “cube in a cube.” The applications for what they learned would be endless, TSTC Precision Machining teaching lab assistant Francisco Garcia said.

“Manufacturing’s in high demand,” he said. “Everything you use daily has been through the machine shop at one time.”

GEAR UP, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is a national program that provides funding for academics and other support services to eligible students.

“The purpose of GEAR UP is to have the students and their families gain awareness of what their postsecondary options are,” said Daisy Garrett, GEAR UP facilitator with Los Fresnos CISD. “It’s incredible. I’m really excited for students to come to the campus.”

The seven-year grant program follows students starting in sixth or seventh grade and follows them through high school and into their first year of college.

During Monday’s official kickoff for the week at TSTC, provost Cledia Hernandez shared some words of wisdom with the group of students.

“You have an amazing team supporting you guys to make sure your dreams come true,” she said.

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