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U of Washington GEAR UP Full Conversation


Full Conversation with Jair, Martin, Micaela, Jennifer


Jair Lopez
Hometown: Toppenish, WA (Actually Detroit, MI)
High school: Toppenish High School

College: University of Washington
Year in college:
Class of 2022
Major: Civil Engineering

Jair’s Places: S.T.A.R.S., Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity Inc.
High School Places: VEX Robotics and Soccer
First gen?: Yes
Reach out to Jair on Instagram: @jair_609


Martin Cueva
Hometown: Toppenish, WA
High School: Toppenish High School 

College: University of Washington
Year in College: Class of 2022
Major: Political Science with a focus in Economy
Martin’s Places:  Omega Delta Phi Fraternity Inc., UW CAMP (College Assistance Migrant Program).  Dare to Dream summer mentorship program at UW. Basketball UW IMA (Intramural Activity Building).
High School Places: Football, Pep Band, Marching Band, Golf Leadership (Involved community projects around Toppenish)
First Gen?: Yes
Reach out to Martin on Instagram: @martinjr_109


Micaela Ruiz
Hometown: Toppenish, Washington
High School: Toppenish High School

College: University of Washington
Year in College:
Class of 2022
Major: B.S Physiology/ B.A Psychology

Micaela’s Places: UW ALVA GenOM Project, UW Neurobiology Club, UW Mixed Student Union, UW MAPS ,Undergraduate Research Leaders (Undergraduate Research Program), Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, OMA&D Mentor Protege For Success Mentor, Ethnic Cultural Center
Reach out to Micaela: email: OR or on Instagram: @_mvr25


Jennifer Santiago-Flores
Hometown: Mount Vernon
High School: Mount Vernon High School

College: University of Washington
Year in College:
Class of 2021
Major: Business Administration
Jennifer’s Places: I made friends by attending classes and talking with my classmates.
High School Places: FFA, FBLA and LEAP
First-generation student? Yes
Reach out to Jennifer on Instagram: @Jennysanti13



Hashtag Directory: #WhoIs #highschool #background #GEARUP #TRIO #dreamjob #collegesearch #applyingtocollege #rejection #scholarships #communitycollege #studentsupport #firstgen #payingforcollege #studentloans #makingfriends #transition #gettinghelp #mentalhealth #uncomfortableexperience #people #places #advice #relationships #academicstruggle #greeklife

00:00 intro

00:30 Harlan asks if anyone can explain what GEAR UP is. Micaela gives a brief overview. Jair expands on that and talks about how he was introduced to a lot in the STEM field through GEAR UP and the robotics club. Micaela and Jair talk about how they were involved with robotics in high school

3:26 Harlan asks Jennifer to describe her HS self. She said she was kind of shy but if someone came up to her she’d be open. She was involved with some clubs. She says she comes from a latin family. She was involved with FFA but she remembers that it felt a little strange since none of her friends were involved and everyone else there was white and she was the only one who was Mexican. She took an animal science class and the teacher recommended she join. She was also involved with FBLA which she describes as being a very different atmosphere from FFA.  #WhoIs #highschool #background

6:11 Harlan asks Jair to describe his HS self. He says he could be loud at times, but he wasn’t a trouble maker. He had his friend group but he would hang out with everyone. #WhoIs #highschool #background

6:55 Martin describes himself in HS. He says he was a “goody-two shoes.” He was also on the football team, he was in band, in honors classes and he played golf. He was pretty well known. #WhoIs #highschool #background

8:36 Micaela describes her HS self. She was a straight A student, everyone went to her for help with their work. She was valedictorian, She was in a bunch of clubs. She was usually president of VP. She was a cheerleader. Despite all this she says she wasn’t that social. She was very shy. College was very important for her and her family. Her dad is an immigrant so she’s a first-gen student.  #WhoIs #highschool #background

10:43 Harlan asks Martin about the difficulty of staying in college once you get there. He says he had a tough time his freshman year. First quarter, he had a 2.0 GPA. He failed a class at the end of his freshman year. But he learned from the failure and he’s doing well now. He was on academic warning after that first quarter. #academicstruggle

12:43 Harlan asks Martin if someone helped him get through his tough time, when his grades were failing. He joined a fraternity, his brothers helped him. He would go to the library with them and they would give him tips. Harlan asks if he has words of advice for kids in HS and middle school. He says “failure is going to happen, so just learn from it and move on. Sooner or later it’ll happen.” #greeklife #people #places #academicstruggle

14:40 Jair talks about how he got to UW. He remembers back to when he was a kid and having the feeling of wanting to go to college. He didn’t put much thought into it until 8th grade. He started GEAR UP and discovered robotics and got into engineering. Through GEAR UP he got to go on tours to different schools. He knew he wanted to do engineering, UW is the best school for that. He was in his junior year when he really focused on wanting to go to UW. #GEARUP #collegesearch

16:17 Harlan asks Jair about paying for college. He says UW had a program called the Husky Promise, which helped him a lot. His family is low income so he got some help. He got grants and didn’t have to take out loans. He had an EFC of zero. He hasn’t had to pay anything out of pocket. He didn’t apply to many scholarships. He wishes he had applied to more. But still he has been pretty well covered. He also got money for his living expenses and books.He wasn’t valedictorian but he still did very well in school, he spoke at graduation. He had really good grades. He says he kind of coasted at the end of HS. But when he started at UW he had a bit of a rougher time. GEAR UP helped him through the application process and looked over his personal statement. #payingforcollege #scholarships

27:38 Jennifer’s older brother had been to college before although he couldn't finish because of financial aid limitations. Her grades weren’t great, she had about a 2.7 GPA. she applied to UW but didn’t get in. She decided to start elsewhere and then transfer in. It was tough to be rejected from UW at first because her friends got in. no one in her family had gone to community college so she felt like she was scrambling to find resources. At first she wanted to be an art student but when she got to UW she realized she wanted to go into business. She opened her own business this year and sells baked goods. Baking is a big passion of hers. #rejection #communitycollege #dreamjob

34:46 Harlan asks Jennifer if it’s easy to transfer from community college to UW. She says it’s easier to transfer when you have your associate's degree. If you don’t have your associate’s then you need to have better grades. To pay for school she applied to financial aid. She got some loans but not a lot. She’s supporting herself with her business as well. #communitycollege #studentloans

37:55 Harlan asks Jennifer how GEAR UP helped her. She mentions that they helped pay for exam fees like SAT and ACT. They really helped give more information about universities. She says without GEAR UP she probably wouldn’t be where she is now.  #GEARUP

38:56 Harlan asks Micaela about her journey to college. Her family always talked about UW. They were big fans of the football team. Her journey hasn’t been easy even though she was a straight A student in high school. Getting to college was like a kick in the face. Her classes were difficult, especially since she was taking a lot of STEM classes at once. #collegesearch #transition

40:36 Harlan asks Micaela what the application and financial aid process was like. She applied for the FAFSA, applied for the Washington state opportunities scholarship. It brings in a lot of money. She received that. When she got her FA package from UW her EFC was higher than she expected. She talked to her trio advisor who worked closely with GEAR UP and was told to apply for the Costco diversity scholarship. She got that and it gave her a lot of money so she was able to go to UW. If it wasn’t for that, she probably wouldn’t have gone. #payingforcollege #scholarships

42:42 Harlan asks Micaela what TRIO is. She explains it’s similar to GEAR UP but they have an actual office at UW. They work with undergrad students. While she was in high school, she was introduced to this TRIO advisor who advocated for her to get the costco diversity scholarship. Micaela’s family income was just barely above the cutoff line for the scholarship but because of her academic performance and being so close to the line, the advisor really advocated for her and fought to get her the scholarship because she said she deserved it. #TRIO #scholarships

46:30 Harlan asks Martin to recommend Jennifer some places to get help like TRIO. Martin mentions the study center that is specific for first gen students and TRIO students. You can meet people taking the same classes as you with the same background and buddy up. He also mentions CAMP, which is a program that helps people that come from migrant worker families. They provide some extra financial support and it’s a group where you can find community. You get an advisor that helps support you. #studentsupport #TRIO #firstgen

 49:20 Harlan asks Micaela where someone can find community at UW. She also mentions the instructional center. It’s run by the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity, they run all kinds of programs for underserved communities. There is also the ECC, ethnic cultural center. There is a room for some different cultures and you can find a group you identify with or people who share a similar story as you. There are also cultural fraternities and sororities. #studentsupport #firstgen #places 

51:58 Martin jumps in to add that Jair is also involved with the same branch of Latin based Greek life organizations. #greeklife 

53:05 Jennifer says she had no idea about a lot of these places. Most of her friends were already attending UW so she was the only one who transferred.

53:59 Harlan asks the students about diversity on campus. The campus is majority white. Micaela says the latin community at UW is pretty small. You can see that especially in those big lecture halls.  

54:39 Harlan asks Martin what his journey to UW was like. He always knew college was an option. His older sister went. His other sister then got into UW. He wanted to get away from family and try something new. He applied to WCU, got in. He applied to UW but didn’t really want to go there. But after flying back from a trip and seeing the city lit up he decided he wanted to go to school in seattle. Once he got accepted he knew that was where he wanted. He applied for the FAFSA and had an EFC of 6000. He shared an apartment with his sister which made things a lot cheaper. He got a 1200 dollar stipend from CAMP, he also got the WSOS scholarship even though he wasn’t in STEM. Anyone can apply. He also worked at a pizza place on campus. He only had to take a 1000 dollar loan his first and second year.
#collegesearch #payingforcollege #studentloans

59:00 Martin mentions a little extra story about when he worked at the pizza place. Sometimes he would be left to close the store and at the end of the night he would make 3 or 4 extra pizzas and share them with friends. He got laid off because of COVID but he works at Costco now.

59:50 Micaela explains that she works at Costco because of the Costco scholarship. She has met the CEO a few times. She works in the call center and has met a lot of people who sell the products you find at Costco. She also gets an executive Costco membership as part of it too.#scholarships

1:01:00 Harlan asks Martin about how GEAR UP helped him. He remembers during Freshman year they all met for dinner, all UW students that were GEAR UP and graduated from Toppenish met up. They got to talk about how things were going, got to reconnect with people from high school. He remembers that being a nice bit of motivation. #GEARUP #studentsupport

1:02:00 Harlan asks Micaela about GEAR UP field trips. She remembers being so struck by the beauty of the architecture on campus at UW. She says they help a lot of students with paying for books. She mentions a teacher helping her with her FAFSA. They help parents and children get through the paperwork. #collegesearch  #GEARUP

1:04:50  Harlan asks about the transition to actually getting to campus. She met the gear up director Conan during the purple and gold event. Someone had mentioned to him that she was interested in being a neurosurgeon. Conan recommended a program for Micaela to apply for. So that started her down the path of doing this program. It was kind of a hectic process to get into the program because it was closed but they opened it back up to let her apply quickly. She was put into a research internship that was very grueling. She was taking calculus and chem classes. She felt intimidated because her classmates were more well prepared because they came from more privileged high schools. She had the realization that she might not be the smartest kid in class anymore. Imposter syndrome hit pretty hard. She also accidentally signed up for a 400 level class, she didn’t understand what the numbers meant for classes. She dropped the class at week 7.  She felt like she was failing and letting her family down. She was worried about meeting her credit requirement for financial aid. She was able to get credit for doing labs. Her PI from the lab was able to help her out after she asked for it.
#academicstruggle #gettinghelp #firstgen #transition

1:10:50 Harlan asks who Micaela turned to for help in her moment of difficulty. She turned to the director of the internship she did. She nicknamed her “mom.” She was telling her all about the difficulty she was experiencing and the anxiety from it. She told her that she should talk to her teacher to receive lab credit to help solve the problem. #people

 1:12:40  Harlan asks Micaela how she met Lisa Peterson. Conan, from GEAR UP, introduced her to Lisa at an event. She was always coming to check on students and see how they're doing. She loves helping minority students. She was very open to talking. She works in admin and was very helpful. #people #GEARUP

1:13:56 Harlan asks Jennifer if she’s good at asking for help. She says she isn’t. She says the way she grew up she didn’t ever want to be a burden to anyone else. Seeing her parents struggle, she didn’t want to give them more to deal with. #firstgen #gettinghelp

1:15:27 Harlan asks Martin what Dare to Dream is. He says it’s a camp that brings in high school students from around the valley to UW. They are taught how to get around campus, experience classes and swap advice. Mentors get to spend time with the students to give them advice.  #transition #places

1:17:06 Harlan asks Jair about his most uncomfortable experience. He says switching to virtual learning during COVID has been the most difficult for him. He can’t focus on a computer screen. He’s still adjusting and trying to get through it. He takes a lot of his classes with the same students so they are able to help each other through homework online together. His grades haven’t changed too much. But focusing has just been so much harder, and retaining information too. Harlan asks if he was open with his friends about how he was struggling. Jair says yes and now he has people he can work with for help. #academicstruggle #people #gettinghelp

1:21:25 Harlan asks Jennifer what her most uncomfortable moment was. A couple of quarters ago when she was trying to get into her major, switching from art to business. She was trying to get her prerequisites. She had a tough time passing calculus 1. She failed twice and she was getting worried because you are only given 3 tries. Math has always been tough for her. She was worried she might not be able to stay in the business school. She eventually did achieve her goal by talking with her counselor who recommended another class that would help her meet the requirement. #academicstruggle #gettinghelp

1:25:23 Harlan asks Micaela about her most uncomfortable experience. She says it was the quarter she mentioned earlier. She passed her calc 2 class by a narrow margin. She was passing with low scores in some of her other classes too. There was a lot of pressure she put on herself to get into that neurobiology program. She had very bad test anxiety. The first two years were  tough and then COVID happened. Being back home, her home environment wasn’t the best. Things got better once she moved out in her 3rd year. She has worked a lot harder this year, she goes to office hours. She uses tutoring services and asks friends for help and saw an improvement in her grades. #uncomfortableexperience

1:28:35 Harlan asks Micaela if has anything she’d like to share for anyone else who has a difficult family dynamic. She says in general just being back home is a big shift. Life is really different going from Seattle back to the Valley. Being in a crowded house everyone trying to do work is difficult. She doesn’t get along with one of her siblings. She loves her family but being home felt like a toxic environment. It wasn’t helping to try and learn virtually at the same time.

1:30:53 Harlan asks Micaela about anxiety. She recommends people to take it slow. She says there’s a stigma in the latin community about mental health. It was hard for her to feel like she could be open with it. She finally decided to take advantage of the counseling center. Jair says he’s still learning to manage stress as well. Harlan offers some advice. #mentalhealth

1:36:31 Harlan asks Martin what his most uncomfortable experience was. He talks about a relationship he was in during high school that went sour towards the end of high school. He wanted to end it before going to college but didn’t really know how to cut things off. So they continued the relationship. He remembers wanting to join the marching band but she was 100% against it and from there she started dictating a lot of what he could and couldn’t do in this long distance relationship. Now he looks back and realizes that someone like that who would tell him what to do like that wasn’t worth having in his life anyway.  #uncomfortableexperience #relationships

1:39:35 Harlan asks the panel for advice for leaving home and being far away from family. Micaela was excited to leave home and begin a new chapter of her life. She wasn’t worried about missing anyone except her parents. She says her mom babied her a lot growing up. She says the internship made the transition a lot easier. #transition

1:41:32 Harlan asks Martin how he managed the distance from home and adjusting during that tough time. Martin says his sister being there helped a lot. She was senior so she could offer advice. His fraternity brothers were also very helpful. #transition

1:42:40 Harlan asks Jair how he managed being away from home. He felt prepared to leave home, he wasn’t scared. His dad was feeling more protective than his mom. He would call to check in often. #transition

1:44:19 Harlan asks Jennifer about homesickness. She misses food from home. But she is also very attached to her parents. She did miss them a little but she thinks they really missed her a lot which made her miss them more. She would call home and hear them holding back tears over how much they missed her. Sometimes she’ll have spells of really missing home. Her roommates help a lot. She was friends with them in high school. #transition 

1:46:24 Harlan asks about the EEI program (early engineering institute). Jair talks about how GEAR UP funded his high school robotics program to build and compete. GEAR UP paid for them to travel and compete and those trips were a great experience.

1:48:46 Harlan asks if anyone wants to add any tips. Jennifer says for writing a personal statement for your application, just write from the heart. Let the person reading it read about you. She says it is basically what let her get into UW. Share what your dreams and pursuits are. Harlan asks what she wrote about. Jennifer wrote about her baking and opening her business. She thinks that really helped her because her grades weren’t the best. #advice #applyingtocollege

1:49:52 Harlan asks Micaela her dream. She says she wants to work in medicine and potentially drug development.  #dreamjob

1:50:22 Harlan asks Martin his dream. He wants to be a lawyer someday. His goal is to eventually be a prosecutor. Jair offers to introduce Martin to a friend of his who works in law. Harlan talks about how if you share your dream you never know who might hear it and offer to help. #dreamjob 

1:52:00 Harlan asks the panelists what they would tell their high school selves. Martin would tell himself to not be involved in that relationship through college. He things he would have gotten more involved on campus. Jair would tell himself to improve his study skills. Jennifer would tell herself not to underestimate herself. Micaela says mentorship is a very important thing. It’s how you get connected and find help. Reach out to those people who help. #advice #highschool 


New York Times bestselling author Harlan Cohen talks with current and recent students about life in college.  For more videos visit BeforeCollegeTV on YouTube.  For more information about Harlan Cohen visit him online at: or follow him on social media: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Tik Tok | LinkedIn | Snapchat (helpmeharlan).

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