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Third in a Three-part Series on Pre-College Programs at NJIT

As a result of participating in GEAR UP — Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, provided by NJIT’s Center for Pre-College Programs (CPCP) — Aaliyah Woodson says both her GPA and self-confidence got a boost and she was inducted into the National Honor Society. She already has completed two internships, one at Dun & Bradstreet and the second at investment bank Sandler O’Neill + Partners, and will head to college next fall.           

“Without GEAR UP, I don’t think I’d be as far as I am now,” Woodson shared, noting how she also learned to embrace public speaking through the program. “I was talking to so many leaders, professionals… My networking skills are up there now.”          

GEAR UP, a state- and federally funded collaboration between NJIT and Newark Public Schools, offers free educational support and assistance to middle and high school students to help them prepare for and enroll in an institution of higher education. Students take part in a 20-week academic-year or six-week summer program, and also receive personal counseling and tutoring, and attend field trips and college tours.  GEAR UP students visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture while on a college tour this past September. 

Woodson began GEAR UP the summer after she completed eighth grade and continued until 10th grade, attending the program on Saturdays during the school year. She eventually branched out to become involved with CPCP’s leadership, youth and government, engineering and robotics programs, and recently spoke about her experiences at a CPCP Advisory Board meeting.     

Now a senior at American History High School in Newark, where she plays volleyball, is a Student Council delegate and takes AP and Honors classes, Woodson is in the midst of college application season. (She also is an alum of and youth host for the Development School for Youth­ – All Stars Project, which teaches 16- to 21-year-olds how to perform as business professionals and then places them in paid summer internships.) The youngest of three, she will follow in the footsteps of her sister as a first-generation college student, and would like to study international business management.

“I know it’s going to be tough, but I can handle it,” she said.    

Such self-assurance was hard-won by Woodson, who was harassed in elementary school. “When I was growing up, I wasn’t really a popular kid. I used to get bullied a lot. I was actually cyberbullied at one point,” she admitted. “It was a hard time growing up and making friends.”      

GEAR UP not only welcomed Woodson into a community of students that, like her, looked toward achievement, it gave her a taste of college life as well. She learned about applying for financial aid, too

“People say ‘it’s not for me,’ but you have to actually be in the room to feel the environment,” she said of the program. “They made sure you were on time and had your work done. It was like being in college.

“Being on a college campus changes your perspective… You get the feeling this is where I want to be in the future.”

About the Center for Pre-College Programs

The Center for Pre-College Programs was established in 1979 in order to increase access to scientific and technological fields among traditionally underrepresented populations and to improve the teaching of science and mathematics in secondary and elementary schools. Achievement is reflected in the accomplishments of its many pre-college alumni who become teachers who show the way to youngsters, engineers who create technology that allows astronauts to rendezvous in space, scientists who research new avenues to control and cure diseases, and financiers who strive to keep our economy flourishing. The Center for Pre-College Programs annually serves more than 3,000 elementary and secondary students and their teachers in a variety of programs.