Spayne Martinez and Erika Sanchez are following the career paths they chose when they were in the 8th grade at Chiloquin Junior/Senior High School.

In 8th grade, Erika Sanchez knew she wanted to be a nurse. Fast forward eight years and Erika is on track to graduate from OHSU School of Nursing in Klamath Falls in 2014. Her classmate, Spayne Martinez, also articulated her passion in middle school - to become a documentary filmmaker, telling the stories of her people, the Klamath tribe. Today she is working towards a degree in Photography at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco while running her own commercial photography business, snapping shots in Oregon, California and Hawaii.

 "I especially like caring for children. My mother was a nurse, and I know I want to be a nurse too. I know I will need to go to college to realize my dreams. Math and science are two subjects I need to excel in." 

Erika Sanchez, 2005

"I will graduate as an RN in June 2014 from OHSU, and then I want to work in a rural community. One of the best things about college is that every day I’m learning something new."

Erika Sanchez, 2013

Erika 2005

Erika 2013

Her advice to others in 2005:

"Don't be afraid to ask others for help and guidance. It's never too early to think about your future. Have no one set your limits for you!"

 Her advice to others in 2013:

"Really focus on high school: get good grades, participate in community, and build relationships with folks who can help you."

As part of their GEAR UP program, Chiloquin Junior/Senior High School partnered with Oregon Institute of Technology faculty to help students think beyond high school and to identify their support network. The project, dubbed "My Story - The Hero Within", helps students tell their story through essays and photos and is presented at a special awards ceremony at the end of the 8th grade. Now a long-standing tradition in Chiloquin, Erika and Spayne were part of the inaugural group in 2005 and were selected by their classmates to have a professional photo shoot related to their future career. This valuable program has been replicated at other GEAR UP schools across the state in order for students to understand their unique stories and strengths.

 "I want to be a documentary filmmaker. I am very interested in telling the story of my community [the Klamath tribe] and the current issues challenging us, especially our story about water." 

Spayne Martinez, 2005

"I'm currently taking classes online, but preferred taking classes on campus when I was living in San Francisco. While there, I volunteered for Clean Water Action."

Spayne Martinez, 2013

Spayne 2005

Spayne 2013

Her advice to others in 2005:

"Don't be afraid to follow your dreams!"

 Her advice to others in 2013:

"If you want to do something, go out and do it! Be involved with everything, it will open doors and give you a chance to do what you want to do."

"The "My Story - The Hero Within" Project was designed to encourage our 8th graders to envision their best future, create a path to achieving it and articulating their dreams and plans to family and friends," says Becky Wilson, former GEAR UP coordinator at Chiloquin Junior/Senior High School. "Along the way, students acknowledged their self worth and the things and people in their lives that they love - I believe this helped make their dreams believable and achievable. Erika and Spayne are beautiful examples of the success of early encouragement to dream and plan."

There's life after GEAR UP! The key to keeping the college-going culture going: collaboration, community...and coffee.

After six years of GEAR UP funding and support, it can be a challenge to sustain the level of activities and services offered to students, parents and teachers. Several former GEAR UP coordinators were on hand at the annual SUCCESS Retreat to discuss the keys to keeping the college-going culture alive.

Crystal Parrish from Chiloquin High School, Roger Berger from Hermiston High School and Lisa Shreeve from McKay High School agreed that the following strategies are instrumental in keeping the focus on college readiness:

  • Focus on what works. Better to recognize that some things you tried just didn’t work and focus energy and resources on what did work.
  • Keep it simple. Narrow down and perfect the scope of your project and then expand when ready.
  • Tag along. Jump on any and every opportunity to insert your college-going message/activities; tag along with existing activities.
  • Make (and maintain) partnerships. Partners and donations are important!
  • But, money isn't everything. Money is important, but you can do without it. Find no/low cost activities; get creative about raising money.
  • It's a team effort. Find people who are passionate about a goal or activity and they will sustain it.
  • Try, try again. Don’t give up, even when you get knocked down.

"GEAR UP has given us a platform to pull together many resources in an attempt to provide better support for our student as they pursue higher education," says Berger, the business education teacher at Hermiston High School. "We have been able to maintain almost all of the projects we started with the help of GEAR UP, although maybe not at the scale we had while still receiving the grant. We are constantly searching for new methods that work, and evaluating those we are currently using." 

Java DawgOne of the new methods that has proven successful is a coffee/smoothie business, Java Dawg, which GEAR UP helped support in its initial phases. It is now a course that third-year accounting students operate with the proceeds going to support college going activities. "Java Dawg has been a driving force in maintaining our programs, because it has given us some financial independence for college visits, materials, and general needs," he says.

Melody Bustillos, a counselor at Hermiston High School and the Generation College club advisor, concurs. "College visits have been a priority. We know how important it is for students to be on a campus and to be able to picture themselves there and to see other students from our high school already there and being successful."

Knowing the impact of GEAR UP on school culture and behavior, it is critical that schools embed college preparatory services and activities wherever possible, while maintaining community and educator partnerships. Whether through coffee or collaboration, former GEAR UP schools are continuing to hold high expectations for students - that college is not a dream, it's a plan.

Check out the infographic with the results from the first cohort of Oregon GEAR UP schools from 2002-08.

An infographic is worth a thousand words...

Celebrating 10 Years of Oregon GEAR UP

Oregon GEAR UP is celebrating 10 years of creating college-going cultures in schools across the state. Watch the video!

Oregon GEAR UP is celebrating 10 years of creating college-going cultures in schools across the state. This short video kicks off our month-long campaign sharing the stories of successful students and programs over the past decade.


Nearly 50 percent of all Hispanic graduates at Hermiston High School were enrolled in college by fall term, all but closing the Hispanic to Caucasian college-attending achievement gap.

Hermiston High School, part of the original GEAR UP cohort from 2002-2008, was recently featured in The Hermiston Herald and on OPB for their increased college-going rates, especially among Latino students.

The key? Peer and staff support (with a shout out to former GEAR UP coordinators Roger Berger and Melody Bustillos!), says Janeth Macias, a graduate of Hermiston High School who went on to attend Eastern Oregon University and now works as an admissions counselor there.

During her sophomore year of high school in 2006, Macias and classmate Yasmin Ibarra, founded the Generation College club with senior counselor and advisor Melody Bustillos.

As a club they could depend on one another for support, search for schools that fit their needs and organize fundraisers for college campus visits, she said.

Macias said the club was also vital in her surviving her college experience.

“Once I got into college, it was nice still maintaining that support,” she said. “I had someone to talk me through it. If I wanted to come home, they were able to find ways where I could visit my mom.”

Stay tuned for more coverage of the successes of our first cohort of GEAR UP schools in the coming weeks!