Educational Partnership Center lands $3.27 million grant to help students achieve college

Christopher Mutshnick, left, lead college facilitator with the UC Santa Cruz Educational Partnership Center, assists Gerardo Avina, a Seaside High School senior, in registering for the SAT and ACT.

UC Santa Cruz’s Educational Partnership Center has been awarded a $3.27 million federal grant over seven years to help prepare middle and high school students in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District for college. The grant is one of 41 nationwide totaling $82 million as part of the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

“The GEAR UP college access programs are vital to our efforts to support lower-income students in their aspirations of joining the University of California,” said Richard Hughey, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education.  “I am particularly excited about this opportunity to expand UCSC’s collaborations with regional schools and to help individual students explore the possibilities of advanced education and student research on our campus.”

“Access to a quality education is necessary to break the cycle of poverty,” said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel. “The GEAR UP program provides a needed connection between low-income students and a college degree. Thanks to the efforts of UCSC, Central Coast students from all economic backgrounds will now be ready to attend and graduate from college.”

The grant will help fund student academic and financial aid advising, tutoring, college field trips and other college-going activities.  The program also includes professional development for teachers as they implement Common Core State Standards to prepare students for college and career. The grants continue the EPC's particular focus on working with K-12, local postsecondary and community partners, along with families, to create environments and support to help low-income, first generation college-bound students reach UC or another college or university.

"The GEAR UP grant allows the campus to provide significant outreach to help underserved students in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District get on the pathway for success in college,” said Maria Rocha-Ruiz, executive director of UCSC's Educational Partnership Center. “We are looking forward to working with the district and targeted schools to widen the impact and build upon the foundation of the work already achieved in these schools by our staff, further building upon the existing college-going community for students and their families.”

UC Santa Cruz psychology professor Catherine Cooper, EPC's faculty director, will work with the program to study and improve strategies for sustaining college-going cultures across school sites, assessing family services in students’ college pathways, and facilitating longitudinal analyses of students’ multicultural college and career identities. She joins the project from Bridging Multiple Worlds Alliance (BMWA), a network of state, national, and international researchers, educators, and policymakers who work to open access to education from preschool through graduate school.  

Faculty from the Center for Educational Research in the Interest of Underserved Students (CERIUS), a UC Santa Cruz- research unit affiliated with the UC Evaluation Center, will serve as the project’s external evaluator.   

 UC Santa Cruz has recently been recognized as a Hispanic Serving Institution, with 30 percent of undergraduates identifying as Hispanic or Latino backgrounds.  The campus is also dedicated to students with financial need – 43 percent of undergraduates receive Pell grants, the federal government's need-based program for low-income undergraduates.

The Educational Partnership Center, a program of the UC Santa Cruz Division of Undergraduate Education, currently oversees two other GEAR UP programs: one in South Monterey County and another in the Pajaro Valley. The Center coordinates new and longstanding student academic preparation efforts of UC Santa Cruz with the goal of increasing access and opportunity to postsecondary education for students across the Monterey Bay and Silicon Valley/San Jose regions.

Through six vital programs (EAOP, MESA, COSMOS, Cal-SOAP, GEAR UP and the California Reading and Literature Project), and with support from federal and state funding, EPC provides an array of direct services which support students on the college-going pathway through tutoring, mentoring, academic planning and counseling, leadership training, test preparation, college awareness and enrichment, and teacher professional development.