PORTLAND, Ore. -

An Oregon State University student from Madras, Elizabeth Gonzalez, has been selected to participate in the inaugural GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy (GUALA) in Washington, DC in June, one of only 30 students nationwide.

GUALA is a 12-month leadership development program for alumni of the federal GEAR UP program, which prepares middle and high school students for college. The student leaders will travel to the nation’s capitol to receive training on grassroots advocacy, social media advocacy, and leadership skills during a week-long retreat.

Ms. Gonzalez, the only Oregon student selected, will then apply these skills here at home toward creating positive change in education policy for her younger peers.

GEAR UP, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is a federally funded college access and success program serving approximately 700,000 low-income students across 43 states and 3 territories, and serving more than 5,300 students in 36 schools here in Oregon, primarily in rural areas.

GEAR UP serves students starting in 7th grade, and follows them through high school graduation or their first year of college. GEAR UP programs are designed to meet local educational needs and services, and often include academic tutoring, financial literacy, FAFSA completion, college tours, and parent engagement programs, among others.

Elizabeth Gonzalez graduated from Madras High School in 2010. A Sociology major at OSU, Gonzalez is active in the Latino community, serving as the community outreach coordinator for the Kalmekak outreach program, and organizing events with the Meso American Student Association and College Assistance Migrant Program.

"I am really excited to be able to give back to those who have helped me so much with my education, as well as being able to improve the GEAR UP program for those who come after me,” said Gonzalez.

The Oregon GEAR UP program, administered by the Oregon University System, has served more than 32,000 students across the state since it began in 2002. The GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy is a new program to engage alumni in a national effort to educate lawmakers and the public about the value of investing in targeted college access and success services. Using personal stories, Alumni Leaders will articulate the impact that GEAR UP has had on their success in postsecondary education.

GUALA is a program of the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP), the national training and technical assistance provider for the federal GEAR UP program. The Kresge Foundation provided funding to support the program.

“We welcome the inaugural class of the GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy,” said Nathan Monell, NCCEP President and CEO. “These students exemplify the spirit of GEAR UP, and illustrate how the federal investment in the GEAR UP program is having a direct effect on these students’ success in postsecondary education. We look forward to sharing their powerful stories with the community.”

“Elizabeth’s dedication to her education and desire to give back to her community are truly inspiring,” said Stephanie Carnahan, GEAR UP director. “We look forward to working with her and NCCEP to help promote college access, equity and success in our shared pursuit of the state’s 40-40-20 goal.”