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Michelle Thao, sophomore at Weber State University, was selected on a national level to travel to Washington D.C. and participate in GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy to receive college preparation training. (Source: Weber State University)

For many college students, the first years of college are filled with intro classes and big decisions. However, one Wildcat is getting the learning experience of a lifetime.

Sophomore Michelle Thao was selected as one of only 24 from across the nation to participate in the GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy class of 2017. For one week, Thao flew out to Washington D.C. where she received intensive training with all of the other candidates.

“This is an amazing honor for both Michelle and the GEAR UP program at Weber State University,” GEAR UP program director Andrea Curtis said of the honor. “She is the second student from WSU to receive the honor and is a fine example of a young student leader.”

The GEAR UP, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is dedicated to reaching out to the underrepresented populations of the world and providing college preparation for students in low income areas. Through the services provided, there are approximately 570,000 students across the United States that are given access to higher education.

“We are dedicated to the students in the Davis and Weber School Districts in helping the students who come from lower income households an opportunity to succeed in school,” Curtis said of the program. “Many students are now in college that in any normal circumstances would never have had the opportunity. Its amazing to see that growth.”

For Thao, though, this opportunity carries a special honor. Like many students in the GEAR UP program, Thao is the first member of her family to ever attend a higher education institution.

“I am the first college student in my family, and so to be honored with this learning opportunity is amazing,” Thao said. “This was my second time applying to the position, and I was surprised when I was selected.”

Thao has been active in the communities both at WSU and at her alma mater, Roy High School. While at Roy, she served as president of the local GEAR UP Club and focused time helping her fellow students understand the different financial options available to them as they seek higher education.

In her college career, she has continued to reach out to her local community as a mentor and tutor to high school students.

“Michelle has always shown forth an extra initiative as a leader, and it has paid off,” Curtis said of Thao. “We congratulate her on her achievement and are excited to continue watching her grow and develop into the woman she can become.”

After her week-long training experience, Thao will spend the next year continually working with national and local leaders on developing educational issues.

“There is still a lot of work I have to do, but I am excited for the opportunities ahead of me,” Thao said in an interview. “I really hope that my story can help other students realize that they can accomplish anything they put their minds to.”

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