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Plans are in place for GEAR UP South Dakota at Black Hills State University. The South Dakota Board of Regents selected BHSU to administer and provide leadership for GEAR UP in partnership with other universities and schools serving American Indians throughout the state. 

Black Hills State University is now providing leadership and administering the GEAR UP South Dakota program. Staff members include (left to right), Michael Erz, BHSU regional coordinator; Murray Lee, statewide summer programs coordinator; Dr. Peg Diekhoff, project manager; Damon Leader Charge, statewide academic year coordinator; Dr. Urla Marcus, co-director; and Rosie Sprague, assistant director for the Center for American Indian Studies. Not pictured: Dr. June Apaza, co-director. 

GEAR UP, an acronym for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is a federal program that is also administered more than 40 other states. 

Dr. Tom Jackson, Jr., noted that BHSU has a strong legacy of providing educational opportunities for American Indian students and is committed to the mission of GEAR UP.   

“We are honored to be selected to administer the GEAR UP program in South Dakota. The faculty at BHSU have exceptional educational outreach and grants administration experience,” Jackson said. “We are dedicated to developing and implementing strategies that will increase the number of low income students, many of them Native American students, who will enroll at a university and graduate with a degree. That said, honestly, this is about students. Finding ways to encourage students to earn a college degree.”

Applications are now open for the 2016 GEAR UP South Dakota Summer Honors Program. The summer program is one activity of GEAR UP, a federal program to increase the number of low income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education.

 The SD GEAR UP Summer Honors Program for high school students is scheduled to begin June 12 on campus at BHSU. This residential, pre-college enrichment program is designed for high school students who desire to enroll and succeed in higher education. All students currently in eighth through eleventh grade who demonstrate a desire for college readiness are eligible to apply. See www.BHSU.edu/GearUp for an application.

Summer programs for middle schools students will be held at locations across the state. Locations and dates are still being finalized.

In addition to the summer program, GEAR UP services will be provided throughout the year. Academic year programs include tutoring, mentoring, advising, prescriptive catch-up services, academic college and career planning, high school to post-secondary transition services, and training for teachers, administrators and parents.

Dr. June Apaza and Dr. Urla Marcus, both longtime educators and employees at BHSU, are serving as co-directors of GEAR UP South Dakota at BHSU. Apaza serves as director of the Center for Advancement of Math and Science Education (CAMSE) and as director of Education and Outreach for Sanford Lab. With her leadership CAMSE ensures support of teachers via professional development in math, science, and innovative teaching strategies as well as the preparation of future teachers.

Marcus provides leadership as director of the Center for American Indian Studies (CAIS) at BHSU. In addition to overseeing four academic programs related to American Indian Studies, Marcus also promotes awareness of American Indian cultures and value systems and acts as a liaison with tribal governments, educational facilities, and organizations. Marcus is an enrolled member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.

Dr. Peg Diekhoff has been selected to serve as GEAR UP project manager. Diekhoff’s career in education spans from classroom teaching to serving as a principal. She has served as a teacher, coach and administrator for the Todd County School District on the Rosebud Reservation. Diekhoff has a doctorate in educational administration. The School Administrators of South Dakota awarded Diekhoff the Secondary State Assistant Principal of the Year in 2014.

Damon Leader Charge serves as the GEAR UP statewide academic year coordinator. His work experience includes service as Legislative Affairs Consultant for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the South Dakota GEAR UP Regional Coordinator. Leader Charge is currently pursuing his master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. He is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

Murray Lee is the statewide summer programs coordinator for GEAR UP. Lee brings a decade of experience working with Native American students of all ages in preparation for post-secondary education. Lee previously served as a program specialist with National Relief Charities in Rapid City. Murray is an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe and is a BHSU alum.

One regional coordinator will also be hired at each of the six state universities. The regional coordinator at BHSU is Michael Erz, who previously served as an outreach worker in the Rapid City School District mentoring Native American youth. He also has experience overseeing the academic programming of Upward Bound, a college preparation program. Erz is a BHSU alum.

GEAR UP is a federal grant program administered by the United States Department of Education. It was established in Chapter 2 of the 1998 amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965 which awarded financial assistance to students and colleges from the federal government. GEAR UP was signed into law in October 1998.