GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is part of a national grant program to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in higher education. We receive funding for six years to serve an entire grade of students from seventh grade to senior year.

RIT’s K–12 Division manages our grant for students in the class of 2020 within the City of Rochester. Our dedicated staff provide or coordinate once-in-a-lifetime experiences, leadership training, personalized mentoring, tutoring, and college and financial aid planning.

If you have general GEAR UP questions, please call 585-484-0705.

Meet Our Staff

Donna Burnette
Executive Director, K-12 University Center

Donna, a graduate of Greece Athena High School, has worked with youth for 12 years and currently also serves as the director of RIT’s K-12 University Center. She has 10 years of experience in the design, management, and implementation of STEM outreach initiatives including large-scale national efforts as well as localized programs for middle and high school students from at-risk and underserved populations right here in Rochester. Her passion for making a difference in the lives of the youth she serves is contagious. She received her B.S. in biology from MIT and her M.S. in Science & Technology Studies from Virginia Tech.

Kraig Farrell
Associate Director

Kraig Farrell has been working with youth for nearly a decade. Kraig is a graduate of Greece Athena High School where he was instilled with a zealous dedication to college access and working with youth. Kraig had influential teachers, counselors, and advocates along his journey, which has led him to follow his passion through GEAR UP. Kraig has a B.S. in adolescent secondary education and an M.S. in adolescent special education from St. John Fisher College. Kraig likes to ski, travel, and spend time with his six nieces and nephews. One piece of advice he has always lived by and something he tries to model to his students is: “Do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

Dennis Robillard
Director, Assessment and Accountability

Dennis has worked with youth for over a decade and is passionate about helping all students achieve on their own terms. With RIT GEAR UP, he supports program management, financial integrity, and data management. Dennis was a 2008 Teach for America Corps Member in South Dakota and was named school and district Teacher of the Year. After leaving the classroom, he worked as a Manager of Teacher Leadership Development where he directly supported Corps Members and district teachers. Most recently, he worked as a Senior Data Analyst with the Syracuse City School District. He has experience with adult learning, group facilitation in culturally responsive pedagogy and discussions around race, class, and privilege. In 2015, Dennis received a Master’s in Public Administration from Syracuse University.

E’Tiana Larkin
Outreach Specialist

E’Tiana’s greatest passion is working with youth who face challenges—that create odds that aren’t in their favor—then help them realize the importance of education and their capabilities. For over five years, E’Tiana has diligently assisted her students by being an additional supportive adult within the school community. There is no other work she’d rather be doing than working with students, preparing them for life after high school, and helping them to gain access to undergraduate or vocational programs. E’Tiana earned her B.A. and M.B.A. in Business Administration from Medaille College. When she’s not spending time with her children, she enjoys reading, writing, and also works part-time at an Emergency Center for Homeless and Runaway Youth.

Ingrid Gonzalez
Outreach Specialist

Ingrid has been working with youth and parents for over eight years, beginning at the Puerto Rican Youth Development and Resource Center as a youth volunteer. Through other pursuits, Ingrid realized that her true passion is working with youth. She graduated from Nazareth Academy in 1999, and has her bachelor’s degree in Social Work and is currently pursuing her master’s degree. She is fluent in Spanish and loves to cook, bake, and dance, though her number one priority is her family. Her goal for students is to see past the inner walls of Rochester and be exposed to endless opportunities. Ingrid’s core value is to stay true to yourself and to always remember to give back to your community. Ingrid feels through her experiences and upbringing she can be transparent and connect to youth on a social and emotional level.

Aisha Howard

As a graduate of Gates Chili High School, Aisha was extremely fascinated by working with people in regarding health and nutrition. She became a paramedic to try to understand how someone’s overall health affected his or her everyday living activities. She went on to earn her Masters Degree in Healthcare Administration from Roberts Wesleyan College, where she realized there was much more to healthcare than just a person’s physical health. This is where her passion for working with youth was born. It became her goal to help youth of all ages not only become physically healthy, but mentally and emotionally healthy as well. Students and education are her passion, and helping students achieve their goals is her motivation. In her free time, Aisha enjoys spending time with her family and friends, and in particular loves to watch her son play soccer as often as she can.

Stephanie Maryan
Events and Marketing Coordinator

Stephanie has over 15 years of experience in marketing, graphic design, and event management, for both local and national clients in a variety of industries. She had been assisting with RIT K-12 University Center events when she was first introduced to the GEAR UP program, and this is where her passion for working with youth began. Eventually an opportunity became available and Stephanie jumped at the chance to work with GEAR UP full time. Each day, she is excited to come to work and think of fun and engaging ways to support the team and spread the word about RIT GEAR UP. When she is not working, she loves traveling, cooking, and spending time with her family and three dogs.

Debbie Freeman
Staff Assistant

Deb Freeman has worked at RIT for 20 years on programs that serve the youth of the Rochester community. She enjoys seeing the many talents the students possess and how they rise above their family and neighborhood situations to achieve great things in the face of adversity. Deb loves working with students and has a knack for all things RIT. One of her favorite sayings is “Never give up, keep striving to do your best.”