Gearing Up for Success

9/9/2019 7:17:52 PM
Gear Up group

From left to right, GEAR UP Director Tamara Waterman, Coordinator Sherrie Jackson, and Ja’Brekia Bass and Kayla Hughes, who both transitioned from the GEAR UP program at Alfred E. Beach High School to SSU in 2018.

Story by Amy Pine | Photography by Hon Low

For the past 18 years, the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) at Savannah State University has served thousands of students enrolled at Tompkins, Hubert, DeRenne and Mercer middle schools, as well as Beach, Groves and the School of Liberal Studies at Savannah High schools. In 2018, the grant program — a collaborative partnership between SSU and the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System — received its fourth cycle of funding from the U.S. Department of Education, with a total award of $3.9 million over a seven-year period.

During the current grant cycle, the program will serve more than 700 students per year from DeRenne and Hubert middle schools and will support and track them through entry into Beach and the School of Liberal Studies at Savannah High and into their first year of college.

GEAR UP, a unit of Savannah State’s College of Education, targets low-income and first-generation college students in 6th and 7th grade, offering them an array of services including academic tutorial, Sensational Saturday sessions, summer bridge programs, study skills, test preparation workshops, mentoring, job shadowing, parental involvement, financial aid information, college application assistance, academic advisement, assistance in secondary and postsecondary course selections, personal/ social counseling activities, campus visits, educational/cultural field trips and financial literacy sessions.

If the students choose to matriculate at Savannah State, they receive additional support through their first year of college. SSU GEAR UP Director Tamara Waterman and Program Coordinator Sherrie Jackson offer lunch-and-learn programs; bring in speakers to talk about topics such as financial literacy, financial aid and tutoring; and even start advising students about graduate school programs. And while the program may officially end once the students finish their first year, Waterman and Jackson still keep in touch with their SSU cohorts, offering them advice, support and mentorship.

Waterman says that the key to the success of the GEAR UP program is catching the students while they are young and just beginning to think about their futures in hopes that attending college will become their primary goal.

“The goal is to help the students get prepared for college, to give them early exposure and assist them with their college preparation needs,” she says. “We’ve had quite a few students who have [transformed thanks to the program]. Students who people had written off are now college graduates, business owners and productive citizens.”

This article first appeared in Arising, 2019.


Established in 1890, Savannah State University is the oldest public historically black college or university in Georgia and the oldest institution of higher learning in the city of Savannah. The university's 3,600 students select majors from 30 undergraduate and five graduate programs in four colleges ‐ Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Business Administration, Sciences and Technology, and Education.

-- SSU --

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