For the third consecutive year, GEAR UP students from across Ohio gathered for the Annual Ohio College Access and Success Conference Student Leadership Summit in Columbus from August 13-15.

Students from eight communities, called lighthouse sites, were selected based on their ability to lead and empower other students in the college access process throughout their community.

The Student Summit was developed for GEAR UP students to come together and practice leadership skills, to network with one another and to find out what other students are doing to help their own communities succeed after high school. Because peers have such a strong influence on one another, the hope is that students will leave with ideas and engage their own peers in the college access process. The two-day Summit is full of team building and brainstorming activities as well as time for personal reflection.

Throughout the Student Summit, students were given the chance to tour the campus of The Ohio State University, talk with professionals regarding entrepreneurship and participate in leadership development. For the first time, students also participated in an essay contest that focused on what college education means to them, what it would mean to be the first in his or her family to go to college and what it means to be a student leader.

Of the 30 essays that were written, three students were chosen by their peers as the overall winners of the essay contest. The students chosen were Terra Sayre from Allen County, Denzel Palmer from Lorain County and Bethany Humphrey from Adams County. These students were given the opportunity to read their essays during the closing luncheon of the 2008 Ohio College Access and Success Conference where Dr. Gordon Gee, President of The Ohio State University, praised their desire to pursue college. "A college education is not just a ticket, it is a gateway to reality for young people," remarked Dr. Gee.

Around 14,000 economically disadvantaged students receive direct comprehensive services through Ohio's GEAR UP state project each year. Five of the GEAR UP lighthouse sites are located in major cities with high levels of poverty. Approximately 50 percent of the 8,100 urban students served are from minority groups that are under represented in higher education. The other three lighthouse sites are rural/ Appalachian schools with high levels of poverty and low post-secondary participation.

GEAR UP Ohio began as a partnership comprised of Ohio College Access Network (OCAN), the Ohio Board of Regents, and the Department of Education working together to accelerate the development and implementation of comprehensive programs for improving college aspiration, access and participation among the state's economically disadvantaged urban and rural students. Eight lighthouse sites (middle schools in low-income districts and the high schools they feed into) were developed throughout Ohio and are currently being served by the partnership of OCAN, GEAR UP, and the Student Access and Success Coordinating Council of Ohio (SASSCO).