For those living in low-income communities, priorities such as paying the heating bill tend to crowd out thoughts of college and a career. In an attempt to help this population’s younger generation imagine a brighter future, Fordham’s GraduateSchool of Education (GSE) is partnering with the Bronx Education Alliance (BEA) to remove barriers blocking higher education and well-paying jobs. Since last year, the GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) project has been assessing and supporting students from six Bronx middle schools. Students are asked about their current and future career aspirations and tutored about educational opportunities. More than 40 Fordham graduate students have provided ongoing evaluations for 56 students, now in the seventh grade at MS 180 in the Bronx. These students will be assessed on an ongoing basis for at least five years, and counseled about what they need to do in order to accomplish their goals.

“There’s an opportunity gap we’re trying to close,” said Margo Jackson, Ph.D., an assistant professor in GSE and the principal investigator of the career learning aspirations research project. “Even though ethnic minority and low-income students meet admissions standards they are still drastically less likely to go to college than those from wealthier, non-minority families.” According to Jackson, factors such as race, ethnicity, gender and social class are essential when considering students’ futures. Through such activities as multicultural counseling, she says students are learning to cope with issues such as prejudice, and are using the resources available to them. “We’re helping students identify psychological and environmental barriers and providing resources to overcome them,” said Jackson. “We want students, educators and parents to use this information to increase the students’ chances of going on to college.” The current assessment process is intensive.

Each Fordham researcher conducts a 10-week series of one-on-one weekly meetings with individual students. The first five weeks are reserved for getting to know the students’ needs, desires and obstacles. The remaining time is spent completing career and cultural assessment questionnaires. These help evaluate the effectiveness of the program’s many different support resources that work to foster students’ academic and career success. “Our graduate students’ strengths are in developing trusting, working relationships with their student clients,” said Jackson. “The challenge is that instead of just learning about multicultural counseling in the classroom, they must now apply what they’ve learned.” The project, a school-university-community partnership program of the U.S. Department of Education, is seeking additional funding to increase the amount of students being assessed. With additional funding, the project will provide research assistants with additional training and offer stipends to attract more graduate students. The group also wants the assessment phase to continue beyond the current five-year period, so that more comprehensive data can be gathered as these students enter college.