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The Best Part of My Semester Was... Student Ambassador Stories

This month I asked our student ambassadors to write about their favorite part of their semester. This is what they had to say!
By Maria Byrd | Southside High School
This semester was different and eventful and yet it was a blessing as well. In my opinion though, every semester is considered the best because it is the start of new beginnings. However, the fall semesters always seem to truly be the best because of the long nights, the fall air that fills my lungs, and the colorful leaves that greet my eyes every morning on the way to school. Just that alone always seems to thrill me the most.
This semester was a start for many exciting changes in my life such as the start of dual enrollment at the University of Alabama in Birmingham and also becoming an 11th grade student at Southside High School. Being at school this semester did seem to bore me at times but my teachers always seemed to change things up to make it more interesting. I learned so much this semester and I even got to do experiments in my chemistry class, which was super awesome.  However, what excited me the most was becoming a GUA ambassador. Challenges have been thrown at me these past three months and I have been put through tests. The tests I’ve encountered this semester gave me an insight of what is expected of me and the responsibilities that I have to fulfill.
As my grandmother says “Life never gets easy and situations are expected, but it is about how you overcome them that really matters.” So, with that mentality stuck to me, work has gotten done and life has gotten easier. Cheers to a new semester in which I hope brings me nothing but more excitement and more great opportunities.  
By Tahliah Wilfong | Bullock County High School
My favorite part of this semester is being a part of the GUA Ambassadors. The coolest thing I've learned is in Anatomy and Physiology. In A&P I learned about the different types of cells and whats inside of them. Like we have red and white blood cells. The cell is the smallest cell that we have and it functions in so many different ways. I also learned how to write the perfect essay and perfect resume. Out of school I learned so many things. I learned about how the sun can affect so many things in the environment. The sun can give you sunburn very bad. The sun can kill many plants and animals if it gets too hot. The sun can drain many lakes. It can also melt things like the paint on cars, houses, and many other things. The coolest field trip I've been on is when I went to the state capital. We walked inside the building and learned so many things about what happens on the inside. Another field trip I went on was to the Whaley center for the festival. I had to teach a group of children about pollution. They did pretty well. They listened well and also they participated in most of the activities we had planned for them.
By Brishada Youngblood | Bucllock County High School 
My favorite part of this semester is my journalism class. Journalism is my favorite part because I can voice my opinion, be creative, and it also improves my writing skills. When I found out that I was a part of journalism class I knew that it would be fun. My first day attending the class was such a thrill. The teacher went off the course syllabus. She told us all the things we would be doing this year. She told us we would be doing newspapers, articles, and YouTube videos.
I can voice my opinion by writing articles on a topic that's interesting to me. Every week students have to write an article, so it could be put in the newspaper. I choose the topic “fashion.” I choose this topic because I can voice my opinion on the latest styles. Every week I talk about something different. Last week I talked about purses and this week I’m talking about fur headbands.
I can be creative in my Journalism class by writing different articles on my favorite topic. For example, I can write about fashion, celebrity news, or worldwide news. Being in this class has given me the opportunity to learn creativity from others. It has also taught me to think outside of the box. During this class, I get to add my own decorations/style to my article.
Journalism improves my writing skills by challenging me to write different types of articles. In journalism it’s a lot of writing. We have to write an article every week. For instance, on our final exam, my teacher gave us a picture of some fighter fighters on top on the house putting out a fire. We had to write an article based on the picture. This assignment was kind of challenging because we had to use a scenario.
In conclusion, Journalism is my favorite part of this semester because I can voice my opinion, be creative and it also improves my writing skills. Journalism is such a great class to be in. It exposes students to new and different things. Journalism will get you out your comfort zone in a good way. I would recommend students to take this class because it’s very fun.
By Maricela Castro Cortez | Bullock County High School 
What was my favorite part of this semester? I will have to say it was homecoming week! All the activities, such as playing soccer and hanging with my friends, were a time I actually enjoyed this semester.  They gave me a break from all the school work. The food was good and so was the music. The student's positivity and school spirit had spread all over. There was so much support given to the football players and our school won games. The football players seemed to have given it their all and at the end, it was all worth it.
Other than that, this semester has gone by pretty quick. This semester has been a chill, challenging one. It has been tough at times but smooth going on others. There were times when school has been tough but I always try my best. I try to keep my grades high and close to where I want them. Thanks to my parents and older brother, I am confident in myself. They motivate me to try my best in all I do. They believe that I can succeed, even when I don’t. My mom would encourage me to give it a try and if it does not work out, to give it another one. My brother will do the same. He makes me want to do well. With the support of my family, I feel like I can accomplish it all.
All the effort I put is worth it in the end. No matter how stressing or challenging it is. I will get it done. Also, the school college tour trips were also really helpful. I have not decided where I want to continue school. Thanks to the tours I'm kind of getting an idea. Well, there's not much to this semester but the challenges I've faced and the efforts I put.

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Our Last Black Belt Friday Trip of 2018! Macon County

We wrapped up our 2018 Black Belt Friday Bus Trips with our biggest trip yet!

Last Friday, November 30th, we boarded a charter bus with over fifty volunteers and headed to Booker T. Washington High School in Macon County. The bus was loaded up with UAB students, faculty, and staff, a majority of whom work in the UAB School of Education (SOE), including the SOE’s Dean, Dr. Autumn Cyprès. It was Dr. Cyprès’s wish that this bus trip be a time for the SOE faculty and staff to become more familiar with GUA’s work in the Black Belt, and we were so excited to have them all join us. Our trip was a huge success, and it’ll be a long time before we come down from the excitement it inspired in all of us!

We traveled to Booker T. Washington High School in Tuskegee, AL where we spent the morning with our students not only from BTW, but were also joined by our students from Notasulga High School. Upon our arrival at BTW, we were treated to an impressive welcome! The students put on an incredible assembly for us, showing us all how much they not only love their school, but how much they love GEAR UP Alabama as well.

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The assembly started with a bang as the BTW band stormed the cafeteria and impressed us all. The cheerleaders and dance team joined the band, setting a tone of excitement and pride that continued through the rest of the day. During the assembly, we had the chance to hear from Tuskegee’s mayor, Tony Haygood, as he described the impact that GUA’s work will have on their community. We are so thankful that Mr. Haygood not only took the time to speak to us, but that he stayed for the rest of the assembly as well. After Mr. Haygood spoke, a number of students from BTW performed, leading us in their school motto, mantra, song, and more. We also heard from students, some of whom told us about how GUA is changing their lives, and others who read their own original poetry. We were also encouraged to hear from BTW principal, Brelinda Copeland Sullen, who shared her passion for the work she gets to do everyday. We were all left inspired by Ms. Sullen, whose love for her students and her school was contagious. Dr. Tonya Perry and Dr. Samantha Elliott Briggs then spoke, continuing the theme of the assembly, sharing their pride for GEAR UP Alabama and inspiring us all. They also introduced a number of our guests from UAB, and during that time, Dr. Cyprès addressed the students offering them encouragement as they finish the semester. To wrap up the program, we heard from one of our Let Us Make Man partners, Dr. Gerry White, who challenged the students to pursue their dreams, and work as hard as they can to make them a reality.

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As Dr. Gerry White spoke, he took the time to show students how important it is to be proactive in the pursuit of their goals. To drive his point home, he introduced a BTW student who was hosting the program, Traverus Thomas, to the UAB School of Engineering Dean, Dr. J. Iwan Alexander who had joined us on the trip. Traverus wants to study engineering and has dreams of doing so at UAB. Dr. White used Traverus and Dr. Alexander as an example of how, when an opportunity presents itself, you have to go for it. He also introduced our other student host, Sasha Clark to another one of our volunteers, Dr. Pam Benoit, the UAB Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost. During the mentoring activity that followed the assembly, Dr. Alexander and Traverus sat on the side and talked for the duration of the morning.

47377743 2156056078046531 5474383710826528768 oDean Alexander with Traverus Thomas during the mentoring session.

47363876 2156056138046525 2051518809998622720 oDean Cypres with another GUA student during the mentoring session

Dr. Alexander and Traverus weren’t the only ones who made the most of the mentoring activity. As the assembly ended, Dr. Briggs instructed our volunteers to join the students at the tables throughout the cafeteria. Rather than structuring what this time would look like, we gave the students the chance to simply as the volunteers any questions they had about colleges and careers. We were so encouraged to see students seeking out specific faculty and staff who specialized in different areas. The room was full of students asking intentional questions and volunteers who were offering them all the information they could. It was incredible to see, and exactly what these Black Belt Friday trips are all about.

47247277 2156056614713144 6811708352091914240 oDr. Sheronica Nelson from UAB shares her expertise with Booker T. Washington students.

After the mentoring wrapped up, the volunteers were treated to an incredible lunch in the school’s library. This was another opportunity to connect with a number of the students, specifically those from BTW who participate in an ACT prep course. While we ate, we continued to hear their stories and be inspired by their personal aspirations. After lunch, it was hard to leave BTW, and we were having to pull a handful of our volunteers away from their conversations with the students, but we then boarded the bus to head to Macon County’s Vocational School.

Macon County has an impressive career and technical education program that prepares all of their students for success after high school graduation. A vital part of this program is the Macon County Vocational School, a site where every Macon County student will visit throughout their matriculation through the school system. This site is designed to give students experience in a number of fields, ranging from medicine to auto repair and sound engineering. We were given the opportunity to visit this site and be shown around by Macon County Superintendent of Education, Dr. Jacqueline Brooks. It is Dr. Brooks’s hope that the vocational school will help students have a better grasp on what career they want to pursue upon graduation, and from what we saw, the facilities are more than capable of preparing them for a number of fields!

When we left the vocational school, we traveled to the neighboring town of Notasulga to visit the Shiloh Rosenwald School. The Rosenwald School is a historic site in Macon County, build as a joint effort between Booker T Washington and Julius Rosenwald, who was the CEO of Sears & Roebucks. Together they opened over 5,000 schools across the country, but the Shiloh Rosenwald School was one of the first. The school was also a pick up site for the infamous syphilis study, making the Shiloh Rosenwald School a site of both the best and worst parts of our history. During our visit to the school, we were able to look around the recently restored building and hear from a number of former Shiloh Rosenwald School students. It was an incredible experience for all of us, reminding us of our state’s heavy history and why the work of GEAR UP Alabama matters so much.

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We boarded the bus to return to UAB encouraged by all the day had held. This Black Belt Friday trip was unlike any of our others, and we are so thankful not only to all of our volunteers, but to those in Macon County who made us feel so welcome. It was an incredible way to wrap up our semester, and we can’t wait to board the bus again in January to head to Butler County!

47367140 2156058098046329 5476888926595579904 oOur INCREDIBLE volunteers at the Shiloh Rosenwald School! 

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Alabama Scholastic Press Association Fall Workshop

GEAR UP Alabama was so excited to be a part of the Alabama Scholastic Press Association’s (ASPA) Fall Regional Workshop on Tuesday, November 27th in Montgomery. The workshop was put on by ASPA, but it was graciously hosted by Bro Krift at the Montgomery Advertiser. The workshop featured a number of sessions by ASPA guests, all focused on different aspects of the journalism industry.

GUA sent students from three different schools to participate in the workshop.These students were all either involved in their school paper or, if their school doesn’t have a paper, they had expressed interest in the field of journalism. The students enjoyed hearing from the speakers, who all spoke from their personal and professional experience, which prompted the students to ask a number of questions throughout the sessions.

The speakers included Savannah Bullard, a junior at the University of Alabama, who is a scholastic journalism veteran herself. Savannah led a session on design, showing a variety of her own work and offering the students tips and tricks for their own design strategy. Meredith Cummings, the Alabama Scholastic Press Association director, used her twenty-five years of journalistic experience to teach the students about photography. Ms. Cummings’s session was an informative and comedic experience as she displayed examples of easy mistakes we can make while taking photos. The students also heard from Angela Flowers, a senior at Alabama State University. Angela is studying communications with a concentration in TV/Film and the lead anchor for the ASU Hornet News, making her well qualified to lead the session on broadcasting. She taught the students about how to hold a successful interview and common mistakes often made in broadcasting. Bobby Matthews also led a session, using his experience as a successful journalist to lead the session on writing. Bobby encouraged the students in the importance of telling their story, because no one else can offer their perspective. He offer practical writing tips and left everyone in the room wanting to live, and tell, better stories.


This ASPA workshop was a great experience for everyone in attendance. The students enjoyed hearing from professionals, and the adults loved seeing how engaged and interested the student were. We even had some GUA students walking around to capture the event for their own school papers, and I think that’s the perfect reflection for how successful the event was!

Thank you to Meredith Cummings and ASPA for coordinating the workshop, and to Bro Krift for welcoming us to the Montgomery Advertiser.


To keep up with the Alabama Scholastic Press Association, follow them on Instagram (@AlabamaSpa), Twitter (@AlaSpa), and Facebook.

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Meet Our Student Ambassadors!

This Fall we are excited to launch our Student Ambassador program! 

This program gives our students the opportunity to gain real world writing experience as they produce writing for the GUA website and newsletter. They will receive feedback, edits, and advice from our Graduate Assistant who is also an English MA student, Ashton Ray. Ashton has over five years of professional writing experience and after completing her master's at UAB, hopes to go on to get her PhD and eventually work as an English professor. This program is close to Ashton's heart and passions and she's excited to work with each of the students as they begin their own writing careers. 

The ambassador program was designed to help any GUA student with a passion and interest in writing get their start in professional writing. Each month, the students will be asked to write at least one article that will be published on the GUA website and featured in the newsletter. They'll write on topics that give us a peek into the life as a GUA student, allowing us to see how GUA is impacting the lives of those it was designed for, directly from their perspective. We hope that this experience will increasae the students' responsibility and interest in the world of writing. We're excited about where it's headed!

This month, we're excited to introduce you to our first class of ambassadors! 


 Meet Our Ambassadors

Jaliyah Robinson


My name is Jaliyah Robinson and I am from Union Springs, Alabama. I am currently in the 11th grade. My interests include reading, spending time with family and friends, learning new things, and traveling. I am a varsity cheerleader for my school. A fun fact about me is that I have a 4.2 GPA. My dream job is to become an anesthesiologist. A place I would love to visit would be Dubai. GUA has improved my life by granting me this amazing opportunity to be apart of this program. I am exciting to learn what this amazing program has to offer me!  


Maria Byrd


My name is Maria Byrd and I am an 11th grader at Southside High School in Selma Alabama. Some favorite things of mine include animals (any species), cheesecake, science and history. I am honored to be a part of this program. The things that I know that I am going to learn and what is expected from the program really excites me.


Edgerrin Moore


My name is Edgerrin Moore and I’m from Selma, Alabama. I attend Southside High School and I’m in the 11th grade. I’m a very hardworking and eager person. My favorite sports are basketball and football. My favorite food is lemon pepper wings. One day I planned to have my own company. Also one day I loved to visit Dubai. GUA has changed my life by giving me opportunities to succeed.


Maricela Castro

Maricela Castro

My name is Maricela Castro and I am very excited to be part of this program! I am a 16-year-old Latina and am currently an 11th grader at Bullock County High School. My hometown is Union Springs, AL. My interests are movies, animals, photography, self-improvement, art, music, and animations. I like all kinds of food. Fun fact, I do not like seafood at all! I do not know what is my dream job yet, but a place I’d love to visit is Acapulco, Mexico, because it is where my parents use to go all the time as kids. GUA has improved my life for giving me opportunities to improve my skills and preparing me for college.

Brishada Youngblood

Brishada Youngblood

My name is Brishada Youngblood. I’m from Union Springs, Alabama. I attend Bullock County High School. I am currently a junior. My interests are learning new things, maintaining my 4.2 GPA, and helping people. This year I plan on doing track and field. Something that’s interesting about me is that I do my best at everything I do. You will never see half work come from me. My favorite food is chicken and fries. My dream job is to become a nurse practitioner. I would like to visit Dubai. GUA has improved my life by offering the experience of going to university camps. This really opened a door because I could really see whether or not I want to attend that university.

Tahliah Wilfong

My name is Tahliah Wilfong. I'm sixteen years old. I'm from Spring Valley, New York but live in Union Springs, Alabama. My favorite colors are blue, black, grey, and white. I'm in the eleventh grade and attend Bullock County High School. My favorite hobbies are reading, writing, drawing, singing, dancing, and cooking. My dream job is to become a cardiologist. I’m interested in doing hair and exploring the world in so many different ways. Going places I have never been before. Sports I would like to play are basketball and track. A fun fact about me is that I'm a very nice and caring person. I do not like to see people fail. I like helping people make it to their next grade. My favorite foods are hot wings, fries, eggs, rice, and chocolate. The place I'd like to visit is Dubai. GUA has changed my life because I don't have to worry about how am I going to pay for the college funds and financial aid and other stuff.

If you know of a GUA student that would make a gret fit for our ambassador program, have them email Ashton Ray at avray@uab.edu. Stay tuned for the future writing from our incredible ambassadors!

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Black Belt Friday at Pickens and Greene County

We had another incredible Black Belt Friday on October 5th! We loaded up the bus and headed to Pickens and Greene County for our second Black Belt Friday trip of the year. This trip was a two-for-one, as we were able to take our incredible group of volunteers to visit both Aliceville High School and Greene County High School.

We started the morning at Aliceville High School (AHS) where the students put on a great program for us. The mayor of Aliceville, Marva D. Gipson, stopped by and offered our students an encouraging speech, going over a brief history of Aliceville and challenging our students to follow their dreams. Then, a number of the students performed, bringing smiles to every face in the room as we heard students read poetry, sing, and even dance! Our students had a chance to hear from our Let Us Make Man partners, Dr. Gerry White and his daughter Imani White. After the program, we split the students into groups with our volunteers where they did grade reflection and goal setting activities. Before we left AHS, our group was treated to a delicious snack prepared by our incredible staff and partners. We left for Greene County High encouraged and excited to connect with more students.

At Greene County High School (GCHS), we were greeted by a number of the GUA students before enjoying an incredible lunch prepared by our friends and partners at the school. We then were led to the gym for an assembly. During this time, we heard from GCHS students, the students heard from our LUMM volunteers, and other partners from Greene County. They also had the chance to hear from the special guest of the day, Dr. Charles Nash, the Vice Chancellor of the Alabama University System. Dr. Nash joined us all day and was able to offer encouragement to both our students and our volunteers! We’re so thankful he was a part of this Black Belt Friday. To end our time at GCHS, we spent time doing grade reflection and goal setting with our students, hoping to leave them feeling just as empowered as we know they are!

We have loved both of our Black Belt Friday trips this year and we can’t wait for the next one! On November 30, we’re headed to Tuskegee for our last trip of the semester. Interested in joining us? Click here to register!

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