The following was originally published by Sun Community News.

ESSEX | Six years ago, CFES Brilliant Pathways received a GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help North Country students become college and career ready. As the first students in that GEAR UP cohort prepare to graduate from high school, they and their younger peers are demonstrating an increased awareness of post-graduation options and showing a propensity to continue their education.

Through CFES GEAR UP, 2,457 students are now receiving personalized college and career coaching, giving North Country youth momentum toward furthering their education after high school.

“We want to ensure that our North Country students have the best opportunities available,” said Rick Dalton, CFES president and CEO. In order to achieve this, CFES GEAR UP has mobilized College and Career Readiness (CCR) Fellows at schools in AuSable Valley, Beekmantown, Crown Point, Malone, Moriah, Ticonderoga and Willsboro, who meet regularly with students in grades 6-12.

Last year each student received, on average, 12 hours of direct contact with a CCR Fellow and others, who facilitated in-person and virtual visits to college campuses and businesses, coached students on how to access promising careers and financial aid, and helped them understand academic requirements.

“We want to help North Country youth build opportunities by giving them the knowledge and exposure they need to achieve rewarding careers,” said Ron Rix, who directs the program.

Last year, CFES GEAR UP provided a total of 27,000 hours of career counseling, and academic advising for North Country students. The GEAR UP program also trained more than 450 teachers, educators, high school and college students, and family members who were certified by the University of Vermont as College and Career Readiness Advisors. These advisors, including 75 students in education programs at SUNY Plattsburgh and SUNY Potsdam, are now mentoring students in the GEAR UP partner schools.

The Fellows are themselves recent college grads, who are close in age to those they are counseling. Rowan Arquette, a CCR Fellow at Beekmantown Central School, said that’s an advantage because students can relate to them, and picture themselves following a similar, successful college and career path.

Advisors can explain seemingly simple tasks that can be daunting to students who come from families with no tradition of higher education. That includes such tasks as applying to college or writing a resume, along with answering questions about college life.

Rix said CFES GEAR UP also exposes students to innovative technologies that are useful in careers that are based on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. “Many of today’s careers that didn’t exist a decade ago are in the STEM fields,” said Rix.

To learn about these jobs, CFES GEAR UP students visit cutting-edge companies such as Beta Technologies and Clinton Community College’s Institute for Advanced Manufacturing to participate in hands-on activities like setting up a broadcast studio or using lasers and 3D printers.

Through the grant, partnerships have been created with SUNY ADK, SUNY Plattsburgh, the University of Vermont and a dozen other colleges and universities to create educational pathways that provide lessons in leadership and exposure to new opportunities. In addition, collaboratives have been established with local businesses like TDC in Plattsburgh and the Sylvamo Mill in Ticonderoga, as well as national corporations like Colgate-Palmolive and Southwest Airlines to provide North Country students with workforce development skills and exposure to careers of the future.

“Our goal is to prepare students for meaningful careers and provide a pathway to achieve success,” Rix said. “This changes young people’s life trajectories so they are not just living to work, but are engaged in a career that can give them a better quality of life.” The CFES GEAR UP program is producing positive, measurable results such as greater percentage of high school graduates, increased aspirations for college and post secondary training among high school students, that will benefit not just individual students but the region’s economic development as well.