“GEAR UP to me means bright opportunity. It means setting up students for success and allowing students to dream even bigger than they could imagine themselves. As a first-generation student with no prior knowledge about what my future could hold, having a future vision and goal of creating positive change has all been possible thanks to the GEAR UP Program. GEAR UP is an outlet of immense opportunity for students to figure out their own special way of making this world a better place!”
Brenda Palacios Rodriguez
The GEAR UP Program in Burke County has served Brenda Palacios Rodriguez throughout her high school career. During that time, the 2020 Patton High School graduate attended numerous college campus visits and special events including UNCG CHANCE.
Brenda reflects on this experience, “Here, I was able to meet inspiring leaders and students who were strongly motivated to follow their ambitions and chase their dreams beyond a bachelor's degree, to earning a master's, and even Ph.D. degrees! This week-long experience not only allowed me to become strongly motivated in my educational endeavors, but it also helped me develop a close peer and professional network that helped me in my academics and personal growth.”
GEAR UP funded opportunities such as UNCG CHANCE offered Brenda the option to explore her interests and learn more about career possibilities. Last summer, Brenda attended a campus visit to UNC Chapel Hill, and she felt a connection to the campus right away, “I was able to meet the strong, caring, passionate, and diverse student community that made me feel like being a part of a special family”.
Fast forward a year, and Brenda is well on her way to achieving her goals. She received offers to attend Penn State University as well as The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and despite years of hard work and dedication, she didn’t expect that outcome. “Receiving two amazing scholarship opportunities from two well recognized schools was a huge surprise for me when I first heard about it! I was excited, yet amazed at how such opportunities had unexpectedly opened up for me to choose from! As a Christian, I believed this was a one-of-a-kind gift that only God could make possible to happen, and it showed me He has great plans for me.”
As two prestigious universities vied for her acceptance, Brenda weighed her options and focused on her priorities. After time and much reflection, Brenda accepted the offer to attend UNC.
“It was very difficult to make a decision. While I was initially thrilled to get an offer from UNC, I viewed PSU's design program as the best option for me to pursue my undergraduate studies. However, I took some time to reflect and [to think] about the things that would make each school a good fit for me. I needed a school that would make me feel supported as a first-generation student and prepare me well for my educational aspirations and goals. After visiting UNC's campus and getting to know the students and the diverse community there, I realized how much they believed in me, despite my low ACT scores. When UNC offered to financially support me to make my dreams come true, I knew it had to be. I am thankful to be in good hands at this school, while staying close to my family during these uncertain times.”
In addition to receiving a full ride to UNC, Brenda has also been accepted to the Blue Sky Scholars Program where she will have a staff mentor, participate in an on-campus work study program, and receive financial funding to study abroad. Brenda plans to major in Environmental Studies and eventually pursue a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture focusing a future career on sustainable landscaping and natural ecosystem restoration.
“GEAR UP has been an incredible program that has helped me dream bigger and gain a one-of-a-kind insight into the world of postsecondary education. Through GEAR UP, I have been able to become one step closer to realizing my life aspiration of becoming a Landscape Architect in the future -- thanks to the program's special educational advice, support, and free educational opportunities.”
Brenda’s message of gratitude extends to the people who guided her along the path to success, “I'd love to give a special shout out to all of my teachers and school staff, who during these past educational years in my life, have all helped plant a seed in my life and let me grow into the special person I am today! Everyone's great sacrifice and work has not been overlooked. I wish the best for all of the class of 2020 in their future endeavors and hope we all remember to always keep enjoying life and never stop being thankful for those around us! Let us all appreciate the beautiful gift of life everyday. God bless you all and thank you!”
Appalachian GEAR UP aims to improve college-going mindsets, high school graduation rates, and postsecondary enrollment rates through a wide range of research-grounded services to students, families, and teachers including college visits; comprehensive mentoring; career counseling, advising, and academic planning; educational field trips; financial aid counseling and advising; job shadowing; student workshops; summer programming; tutoring; homework assistance; academic enrichment; parent and family services and workshops; parent and family advising; and more. Programs and services are available to all current GEAR UP students in Alleghany, Ashe, Burke, Clay, Graham, Madison, Rutherford, Swain, Watauga, Wilkes, and Yancey counties. Brenda credits GEAR UP services and staff in helping her to reach her goals, and she urges students to lean into the program and actively engage with the GEAR UP staff.
“To all the students who have GEAR UP services available to them, I encourage them to always be open to sharing their dreams, goals, and aspirations to their GEAR UP mentors, staff, and special instructors. No matter how wild or unique your dreams are, even if you do not know what to do or where to go in the future, GEAR UP is here to support, listen, and encourage you to achieve the things that you never would have thought were possible. GEAR UP is made up of people who want to help you, so do not be afraid to reach out and take the next step. You will be amazed at how many doors will open for you when you reach out and allow yourself to be vulnerable to try new things, even if it seems a little intimidating at first. You got this!”
Brenda on the left at a campus visit to UGA
Brenda on the bottom left at a campus visit to Emory.
Brenda on the left at a campus visit to UNC.
Brenda on the left holding UNC pennant.