Students ‘GEAR UP’ for success

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ 2017 MHS grad Adan Rodriguez speaks about turning his academic career around and going on to study welding while Gear Up Coordinator Connie Gardalen looks on. A college readiness assembly was held Sept. 17.

Getting preteens and teenagers excited about college and connecting them with cost-free courses and scholarships is the mission of GEAR UP Iowa, a state program administered by the Iowa College Student Aid Commission. Monday morning at Marshalltown High School, students got to hear MHS alumni success stories with the program during an assembly held in the gymnasium.

Adan Rodriguez, who graduated from MHS in 2017, told attendees about how he changed his outlook about his future.

“He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but he knew he needed to get some education and took MCC classes and he fell into a career he thought would be exciting,” GEAR UP Coordinator Connie Gardalen said.

Rodriguez got interested in welding, and took as many courses at MCC as he was able to get a jump start on his degree.

“I graduated high school with a 1.8 GPA and I graduated college with a 3.9 GPA. I had an internship lined up through the high school with Emerson. A month before I graduated from college, I had my job with Emerson, as a welder,” he said.

Times-Republican News Editor Emily Barske discussed her experience with the program as a 2014 graduate of MHS.

“The class of 2014 was special because we were a part of the first GEAR UP cohort,” she said. “To get a renewable scholarship and all of those additional benefits is such a big deal.

“It’s not just a price on a scholarship. It’s money toward a college education, which is way more valuable than you can put a price tag on. College is a chance to truly hone in on what you love and the person you want to become.”

Barske said GEAR UP enabled her to pursue a career in journalism and gain invaluable life experiences.

“I went to Iowa State and had so many opportunities. I got to work for and lead one of the best student newspapers in the country. I had professors who had won Pulitzer Prizes. I got to meet people from all corners of the world and I got to know some of my best friends. I got to travel to conferences across the country, including one that was at the New York Times.”

Noemi Calderon always knew she wanted to be an engineer and she began taking core classes before she graduated from MHS in 2005.

“I got my construction engineering degree in four years — it usually takes five years — but with all the college credits I had in high school it helped,” Calderon said.

With the goal of one day working at Emerson Process Management, she started with the company as a receptionist and today is employed as an engineer.

Marshalltown Community College Provost Dr. Robin Lilienthal said the partnership the college has with area high schools has allowed nearly 1,000 high school students to take courses at MCC.

“I would strongly encourage each and every one of you to consider taking a college class while you’re in high school. It is such an amazing opportunity for you. Just jump in and give it a try. It’s free, and that’s the best time to take college classes,” she said.

Other speakers included Marshalltown Mayor Joel Greer, Rep. Mark Smith, MHS Principal Jacque Wyant and Superintendent Dr. Theron Schutte. GEAR UP staff, facilitators Erin Valerio-Garsow and Nathan Svare and coordinator Darcie Sprouse, praised MHS participants who have juggled high school and college courses while navigating life post-tornado.

“I can’t tell you how impressed with what you’ve been able to do and stay Marshalltown Strong, so what we want is for you guys to keep pushing and grab opportunities for internships, get yourself through college, do the things that fill your cup, but do it in a way that will help your community, your family and yourself,” Erin Valerio-Garsow said.

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or