More than 130 seventh- and eighth-grade students from Southwest Virginia will be at Virginia Tech July 31-Aug. 2 for GEAR UP Virginia.

All of the students are potentially first-generation students – or the first in the family to attend college. The camp's purpose is to empower them to reach their full potential through interactive sessions that help build self-esteem along with leadership, communication, and critical-thinking skills.

“We are excited to bring this group of students to Virginia Tech’s campus and equip them with skills that may not only help their immediate future but also their long-term goals and aspirations,” said Juan Espinoza, director of diversity and access initiatives for Enrollment Management and associate director of undergraduate admissions at Virginia Tech. “We hope after this empowering program that the students will see higher education as a goal that they can achieve.”

Over the program’s three days, students will be exposed to motivational presentations, team-building activities, small-group discussions, and individual personal development assignments while being exposed to the university’s campus – staying in a residence hall, eating in the dining hall, going for a campus tour, and learning in classroom spaces.

GEAR UP is a grant-program from the U.S. Department of Education and stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. The Department of Education awarded 10 states money for the program last year with the goal to increase college attendance and completion by supporting low-income students in their preparation for college and their awareness of college and financial aid options.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) is administering the grant money available for the commonwealth, including support of the GEAR UP Virginia program at Virginia Tech.