Funds for Gannon University’s Gaining Options for College (GO College) program have been dwindling; however, the program received a $250,000 grant from the Erie Community Foundation and the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority in November.
The grant will support GO College’s efforts over the next two years to mentor nearly 500 students at Erie’s Strong Vincent and East high schools to explore career options, apply to colleges and obtain financial aid.
Gannon has partnered with the Erie School District and the GE Foundation to participate in the GO College program, which is coordinated by the Washington, D.C.-based Council for Opportunity in Education (COE).
The program is a national data-driven initiative that brings communities together to increase college access and success through academic enrichment, college exposure and service-learning.
Barbara Priestap, Gannon’s GO College high school outreach liaison, said GO College began at Gannon about six years ago. The program then received a five-year grant from the federal government.
According to Priestap, GE is still contributing to GO College, but will “pull out” after this academic year. When the program’s initial federal grant ran out in September, Gannon sought funding from the Erie Community Foundation, the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority and United Way.
GO College was one of four successful grant applicants chosen from an initial pool of 21 applicants in January.
The program also received a grant from the university’s Erie-Gannon Alliance to Improve Neighborhood Sustainability (Erie-GAINS) initiative.
“It can be discouraging during the grant writing process,” Priestap said, “but when you get the grant, you realize that the program not only stays in the schools, but grows in the schools.”
GO College has offices in both high schools that allow the 60 students from each high school class to speak with a guidance counselor or “coach” every day.
The program plans and organizes college fairs, field trips, summer events and other activities that engage students and encourage them to attend postsecondary education whether that be a university, trades school or joining the military.
“Some kids don’t want to go to college,” Priestap said, “but we want them to go somewhere.”
Since 2013, 221 participants in the GO College program, or 90 percent, have been accepted to 30 postsecondary schools while others have joined the military.
Priestap said she enjoys being with students at events and college visits and watching them grow in their social and professional skills.
“The students say things like ‘This really helped me decide to go to college,’ ‘This really showed me what to do,’ ‘I wouldn’t be going to college without this program,’” Priestap said.
“It’s the best gig I’ve ever had,” Priestap added. “This is the one I am really proud of.”
Last year’s East High School valedictorian Carly Szczesny said in her speech that she was grateful for the opportunities she received by being a GO College participant.
“Without GO College, I am certain I could not stand here before you today confident and decisive about my choice of major and on attending Penn State University Park in the fall,” Szczesny said. “I am incredibly thankful for this, and I hope this program can continue to help future students achieve their own goals.