Kentucky: Council on Postsecondary Education

Council on Postsecondary Education
Kentucky GEAR UP graduate to be featured speaker at NYC workshop

Press Release Date:  Friday, February 10, 2012  
Contact Information:  Sue Patrick
Cell: 502-330-6596

As a freshman at Elliott County High School in eastern Kentucky, Joshua (Josh) Sparks never envisioned that he would someday emerge as a national speaker. Sparks, a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University with four college majors in mathematics, sociology, statistics and cultural studies, will be the featured speaker at a national conference expected to attract more than 1,100 educators and college access professionals to New York City on February 14.

The 2012 GEAR UP/NCCEP Capacity-Building Workshop is designed and coordinated by the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP) and planned in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education for the GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) program.

“Through GEAR UP, I had a chance to understand what college is all about, what it takes to get there, and why it is important,” said Sparks, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in statistics at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

GEAR UP is a federal grant program that was created for students from low-income schools. The program benefits students by providing activities to make them aware of postsecondary opportunities and to help them prepare for and succeed in college. The Council on Postsecondary Education administers the state GEAR UP program.

“Josh exemplifies what the GEAR UP Kentucky program is all about,” said Bob King, Council president. “He is changing the path of those that follow after him by mentoring middle school students and helping make college a reality for them as well.”

The CPE received a new six-year grant in 2011 to work with nearly 10,000 students in 29 schools across Kentucky. GEAR UP funds provide a range of services, including academic support and mentoring for students, professional development for school personnel, and programs for parents to foster higher achievement in students.

After relocating from Michigan to Sandy Hook, Kentucky, Sparks participated in GEAR UP Kentucky (GUK) as a student at Elliott County High School. In addition to in-school activities, he was selected for the GUK summer academy in his freshman, sophomore and junior years. The academy is a three-week program conducted in partnership with Eastern Kentucky University. This early college experience introduced Sparks to career options, study skills, campus life and college coursework.

Upon high school graduation in 2006, Sparks enrolled in Eastern Kentucky University as a first-generation college student. While at EKU, he studied in London for a semester, interned at the Department of Treasury in Washington, D.C., and became deeply involved in numerous student organizations. Determined to give back to the program that helped him, Sparks worked as a counselor for the GUK Summer Academy held on the campus of EKU.

“I want to help other students the way my GEAR UP mentors helped me,” Sparks said. “I can relate to the obstacles they face, so they listen to me when I say ‘you can do it.’ As their mentor, I let them know I expect them to go to college and graduate, and that I’m here to support them every step of the way.”

Sparks graduated from EKU in May 2010 and was the recipient of the EKU award for the top undergraduate for the academic year. He then spent a year doing graduate work in sociology at the University of Toronto and served as an instructor and mentor for the Upward Bound program at Morehead State University in summer 2011. After he completes his master’s degree, he plans to pursue a doctorate in mathematics.

More information about the event is available at the NCCEP website.


We believe in the transformative power of postsecondary education. Stronger by Degrees, the new strategic agenda for Kentucky’s colleges and universities and adult basic education, is powering a stronger Kentucky economy and improving the lives of Kentuckians. To learn more about Stronger by Degrees, visit Follow us on Twitter!/CPENews.


Last Updated 2/10/2012