Randy Yohe Published

‘Gear Up’ Program Gets High Schoolers Ready For Careers

Man in auditorium speaking to seats full of students.
'Gear Up' seniors hear from Marshall University president Brad Smith
Emily Hammond/West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission

West Virginia colleges and universities are working to face enrollment challenges head on. One element in that effort is the statewide “Gear Up” program, encouraging high school seniors to get ready for college and careers.  

Marshall University president Brad Smith welcomed about 200 seniors to the school’s Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center stage. Mason County Hannan High School’s Samantha Henken said she was looking forward to graduation, but not the day after that.

“I’m scared. I’m really nervous,” Henken said. “To be honest, it’s scary. It has a lot to do with adulthood. You’re no longer in high school around a bunch of kids and you don’t have as much college support as you would in high school.”

Seniors from Hannan, Point Pleasant, Tolsia and Lincoln County High Schools were all bussed to Marshall to hear from academic program leaders, fraternity and sorority life coordinators, student body leaders, have lunch and get a campus tour.     

Mallory Carpenter is the regional program director for the West Virginia Gear Up program. She said Gear Up’s federally-funded goal is simply to get students interested in any kind of education or training after high school.

“Whether that’s for year to year, trade, school, military certificate programs, apprenticeships, the whole gamut,” Carpenter said. “We just want students to go on and do something after high school.” 

Developing that post-secondary school interest is Point Pleasant High English teacher and Gear Up site coordinator Carla Grady’s job as well, no matter what the student’s socio-economic status may be. 

“We have students who come from overcoming many obstacles, broken families and near poverty conditions,” Grady said. “Then, we have students who have great support systems at home and can afford to do some different options as well. Coming to Marshall University’s campus gives them an opportunity to envision themselves living a life here on campus and getting exposure to all their career options.”  

Point Pleasant senior Luke Pyles said his career options may include  something along the lines of technology or media. 

“I know Marshall has a new cybersecurity program that I’m really looking forward to looking into,” Pyles said. “That’s one of the reasons why I came on this trip today. But I’m still not 100 percent nailed down or tied to anything.”

President Smith said he hopes Gear Up days at Marshall inspires students to see all the possibilities they have before them. 

“It helps them understand what’s available at college, what’s available at trade schools and community college, what’s available in the military,” Smith said. “We want them to be lifelong learners and realize that any and all of these options are wonderful ways for them to create the future they want.”

Marshall is one of many universities across the state and nation that are retooling their curriculum to meet the changing workforce demands of today and tomorrow. Smith said that’s happening at Marshall without breaking any academic traditions.

“We are not forsaking liberal arts at all,” Smith said. “We need to have individuals to be great citizens to be great contributors to their community, but also have the career skills to participate in the 21st century. Those things are not ‘ors’, they are ‘ands’, and at Marshall University we’re embracing an ‘all of the above’ education strategy.”

Fears not withstanding, and having a goal in mind, Samantha Henken said she wants to be an EMT, and the collegiate medical path may be her way forward.

“The universities here in West Virginia are gearing up a lot more toward workforce development,” Henken said. “The world today is turning into more hands-on stuff. It’s going to be a lot harder to find jobs like construction and medical if you don’t go to college for it, because those involve taking care of people and it puts a lot towards your community.”

That’s why Samantha and hundreds more West Virginia high school seniors are getting “Geared Up.”