Photo of Maxine AlexThis month’s blog was written by our new GEAR UP Nevada State Director, Maxine Alex.

Finding Opportunities in Summer Programs

I had no real plan on how to get to college. As a first-generation low-income student from a single parent household, I only knew that I wanted, or more that I needed, to go to college to escape generational poverty. When asked how I got to Stanford, I often tell people, that some of it came down to my choices. One of those choices, a healthy risk, was to attend a conference that led to an invitation to a summer program.

As a youth, I was often the only Indigenous student in the schools I attended and often the curriculum perpetuated negative stereotypes and Indigenous people as a relic of the past. Naturally, when presented with the opportunity to attend the annual Northwest Indian Youth Conference (NWIYC), I jumped at the opportunity to be around other Indigenous people. Attending the NWIYC conferences affirmed my racial identity, cultivated cultural pride that I did not receive in school and presented one of my first mentors. Howard Rainer, a motivational speaker at the conference and on staff at Brigham Young University (BYU), invited me to a summer leadership workshop specifically for Indigenous high school students.

BYU was the first college campus I visited; I was both excited and nervous. As an incoming sophomore in high school, I travelled out of state to my first “mini” college experience. At BYU, the opportunity to live in a college dorm room for a week, meet a roommate from a different state, eat dorm food and attend classes supported my vision of becoming a college student. Additional summer programs gave me a realistic idea of what college was going to be like. I experienced and overcame homesickness. I maneuvered college campuses to find my classes, utilized libraries for studying, and even how to do laundry in the dorms.  In the end, I was better prepared for college not only academically, but socially.

Applying to summer programs unknowingly prepared me for the college admission process and provided material to write about in my admission and scholarship essays. I also met and developed relationships with professors who become mentors writing me letters of recommendation for other summer programs and eventually college. The longest summer program I attended was 8 weeks and included academic college classes; I received college credit while still in High School! I should mention that all the summer programs I attended were free and included airfare. If there is a cost to a summer program, often there are scholarships and fee waivers available, but you must ask for them.

Before Nevada GEAR UP, I worked directly with students and families in a large school district in Washington State. My former students can attest I encouraged them to apply to summer programs outside of school especially if the student has a passion or inkling of a career choice. Summer programs look great on resumes and colleges are more willing to accept students that have “college” type experiences. My recommendation is to a take a healthy risk and give yourself options or choices by applying to several summer programs not only with GEAR UP but other programs locally and nationally!!

Below are some places to start your search, also check with your advisors, counselors and/or visit your guidance office.

American Indian Science and Engineering Society

Pre-College Program:

Society for Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science

National Society of Black Engineers:

K-12 Programs:

Top 100 Most Popular Summer Programs for 2021:

Top Summer Programs for High School Students in 2021: