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Gillette Student is National GEAR UP Youth of the Year

July 29, 2015
National GEAR UP Youth of the Year
William Van Buren, a GEAR UP Wyoming student, spoke at a ceremony recognizing him as the national GEAR UP Youth of the Year. (NCCEP Photo)

A Gillette student participating in a University of Wyoming college preparatory program has been selected as the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP) GEAR UP Youth of the Year.

William Van Buren, who received services through UW’s GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), was selected because he “fully embodies the attributes of perseverance and resiliency, and inevitably stands as a prime example of their power,” according to the citation read during the 2015 GEAR UP leadership awards ceremony in San Francisco. “William is well aware of the challenges that life presents and has used the knowledge gained from his experiences to not only shape his life, but to inspire those around him.”

GEAR UP is a federally funded college access program providing students and families the support and resources they need for college success. GEAR UP Wyoming, based at UW, collaborates with Wyoming’s seven community colleges to provide services to seventh through 12th grade students statewide.

Throughout his early childhood in Texas, Van Buren’s family faced significant financial hardships. He changed schools frequently and bouts of homelessness caused him to miss four years of his elementary school education. Once his family relocated to Wyoming, he was finally able to re-enter school in the seventh grade. However, he was unable to participate in activities outside of school hours, as much of his time required him to care for his younger sibling and help his mother prepare the roses she sold in bars for a living.

Catching up on his studies and helping his mother support their family consumed William’s focus and energy. Soon, he found solace in education, especially in books, and slowly gained confidence in school and took pleasure in learning.

His desire to learn and to challenge himself became well-developed throughout the years. Van Buren joined GEAR UP during his sophomore year of high school, and has been active in his community, participating in the State Science Olympiad and the Wyoming State Reading Council’s Young Authors contest; and volunteering at the Elementary Science Discover Day and the Prairie Wind Culture Fair.

As someone who was deprived of a formal education for a good part of his life, the opportunity for postsecondary education meant everything to him. He remained determined and committed much of his free time his junior and senior years to one-on-one meetings with his GEAR UP academic coach to complete college applications, perform scholarship searches, and research degrees and careers. He was named a 2015 Daniels Fund Scholarship Recipient and, this fall, will study computer science at Purdue University.

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