College Readiness Beliefs and Behaviors of Adolescents in a Pre-College Access Program:
An Extension of the Theory of Planned Behavior

James M. Ellis, Ph.D.
Post-doctoral Research Associate, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

This dissertation provides new insight into key connections between social-cognitive motivation, active program participation and successful college readiness behaviors among GEAR UP participants at the University of Michigan. These connections were investigated in three studies that focus on self-regulated learning behaviors critical for college preparation and readiness among low-income students. The first study examined the relationship between TPB student strengths-attitudes, control beliefs, subjective norms, and intentions-and active GEAR UP participation. The second study investigated the reciprocal relationship between students’ GEAR UP participation and subsequent self-regulated learning attitudes, beliefs, norms, and intentions. The third study explored whether systematic barriers (low parent education) moderated the association between TPB motivational strengths and GEAR UP participation.

Findings from the first study revealed that strong behavioral control beliefs motivated active participation in GEAR UP. The second study found a surprising inverse relationship between students’ active participation and subsequent attitudes toward self-regulated learning. This unexpected finding suggests that active GEAR UP college readiness activities (rigorous course and test preparation) exacerbate distressful orientations (attitudes) toward competitive self-regulated learning behaviors. The third study revealed that higher expectations of significant others (teachers, counselors, parents) increased active GEAR UP participation for the lower-SES students but decreased GEAR UP participation for the higher-SES students. Overall, these findings have implications for the way in which successful pipeline interventions pay attention to social-cognitive strengths that students bring to program settings, how such strengths effect and are affected by active program participation, and how these reciprocal relationships may differ for low-income students faced with systemic barriers.

POWERFUL VOICES: Exploring the Lived Experiences & Literacies of African American Youth

Theda M. Gibbs, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Ohio University

The voices of all youth have power, value and meaning. However, many spaces in and
beyond school struggle to honor the voices and literacy practices of African American youth who
live and learn in urban communities. Through my dissertation, I explored the lived experiences
and literacies of African American ninth-grade students in the University of Michigan GEAR-UP
program. Three questions framed my research: (1) In what ways, if at all, does GEAR-UP foster
African American students’ navigation of school and the college preparation process? (2) What
do we learn about African American students’ lived experiences and literacies through their
participation in GEAR-UP? (3) More specifically, what do we learn about students’ lived
experiences through their engagement in multiple literacies? The study was conducted over the
span of five months in 2015 and is a sub-set of a larger study that took place with GEAR-UP
between 2012-2015. Data from the study included program observations captured in both video-
recordings and fieldnotes; interviews with student participants and staff; students’ writing
samples and presentations; and program curricula.

Findings from the study speak to the ways in which GEAR-UP and students’ families formed
communities of possibility for students’ academic success. Additional findings illuminate how
African American youth utilized literacy as a means for self-exploration and representation and
engaging in community change. Through multiple activities and workshops across the five
months of the study, GEAR-UP provided the space for students to analyze and write poetry as a
means for self-representation; to write community change proposals for improving their schools
and communities and; to obtain the necessary writing tools for successfully drafting personal
statements for college. Findings also reveal how GEAR-UP created a culturally relevant space
that allowed students to form counternarratives about what was possible in their lives as African
American youth. The findings from the study reinforce the importance of programs such as
GEAR-UP that allow African American youth to speak and write about their lived experiences,
and deem these opportunities as valuable and necessary to their academic success.