West Virginia student named to national ‘GEAR UP’ leadership academy


James Ikie Brooks

James “Ikie” Brooks, a Marshall University student from Boone County, is one of 24 students from across the country who have been selected to participate in the national “GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – James “Ikie” Brooks, a native of Boone County, has been selected to participate in the highly competitive “GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy,” (GUALA) a 12-month national leadership program providing students across the country with intensive training in civic engagement and community development. The GUALA program identifies students with exceptional leadership potential and provides training to help them engage their peers, schools and communities in creating a college-going culture.

Brooks, a junior at Marshall University, was one of 24 students selected from a nationwide pool of applicants made up of students who have graduated from high schools served by the federal GEAR UP program. GEAR UP, which stands for “Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs,” works to prepare students to enter and succeed in postsecondary education programs.  

GEAR UP provides services to approximately 570,000 students in low-income schools across 43 states and 1 territory. Brooks was part of the West Virginia GEAR UP program, which is managed by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (Commission), and provides college preparation services to approximately 5,000 students annually in ten West Virginia counties.

In order to better support the GEAR UP mission nationwide, the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP) created the GUALA program with the support of the Kresge Foundation. GUALA works to advance college and career readiness in communities by providing 12 months of training for alumni leaders on topics related to peer-to-peer outreach and mentoring, social media engagement, public speaking and education policy.

Brooks will participate in the year-long GUALA training program in order to better serve his GEAR UP community. As part of the program, Brooks is spending this week in Washington, DC where he will participate in an intensive leadership training and meet with national policymakers and leaders.

Brooks is a 2014 graduate of Scott High School in Boone County where he served as senior class president, yearbook editor, a cast member in several theater productions and captain of the geography bowl team. He is pursuing a degree in biology with the intention of going to medical school and is a member of the RedCross Club, MedLife, and the Optometry Club. During his time in West Virginia GEAR UP, Brooks helped launch a statewide youth leadership program, “Higher Education Readiness Officers (HEROs),” to engage high school students in promoting a college-going culture within their school communities.

Dr. Paul Hill, Chancellor of the Commission, commended Brooks for his dedication to expanding access to educational opportunities for students in the state.

“I am incredibly proud that a West Virginia student was selected for the 2017 class of the national GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy,” Dr. Hill said. “When our students choose to pursue higher education, they are striving for a better future for themselves and their communities. Ikie is taking that a step further by not only working to earn his own diploma, but also to help other students achieve their dreams of earning a college degree.”

More information about West Virginia GEAR UP is available at www.wvgearup.org. More information about the national GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy can be found at www.edpartnerships.org or by contacting Alex Chough at NCCEP at (202) 530-1135.

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission is the state agency responsible for developing and overseeing a public policy agenda for West Virginia’s public four-year colleges and universities. 

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