Traci Aucoin – GEAR UP Project Director for Lafayette Parish School System

Traci Aucoin, the Lafayette Parish Public School System GEAR UP Project Director, joined Jan Swift, host of Discover Lafayette.  GEAR UP stands for “Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.”

A competitive grant program funded by the U.S. Department of Education, GEAR UP works to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education by providing states and local community-education partnerships six-to-seven year grants to offer support services to high-need, middle and high schools. The program begins work when the youngsters are in 6th and 7th grade and follows them through high school and into post-secondary education.

GEAR UP works to increase the number of students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education by providing valuable educational experiences and academic support and helping students and their families prepare and plan for post secondary education.  GEAR UP’s vision is to have all students ready for college and career.  

Lafayette Parish is the only school system in Louisiana that has been awarded the highly competitive GEAR UP grant. Originally awarded a six-year grant in 2008, Lafayette Parish is now in the last year of its second 7-year $13.8 million grant cycle and is working with high school seniors and college freshmen who were part of the original cohort group which began in 2014.

Approximately 3000 students participate in GEAR UP and attend Acadiana, Carencro, Lafayette, and Northside High Schools. The students began their GEAR UP journey while in the following middle schools: Acadian, Carencro, Judice, Lafayette, Paul Breaux, and Scott Middle schools. Aucoin explained that even if a student did not originally begin GEAR UP as a student in middle school, the program provides services for an entire grade at the participating high schools. This is a powerful tool for the school as it helps keep peer groups on target planning for college and focused on the success tools they will need to continue their educational journey.

Transitions from middle school to high school, and then high school to college, are difficult for any student, but especially those whose parents and family members have not finished high school or obtained any post-secondary education. In today’s technology-based economy, 70% of jobs require some form of post-secondary education; Aucoin stressed that once you provide the tools to help educate a student through post-secondary, you can get each succeeding generation in his or her family to understand and appreciate the importance of receiving a similar education. You can break the cycle, drastically improve the quality of life for that family, improve health outcomes, and build success.

It’s too late to start thinking about college when you’re in 11th or 12th grade, and the many enriching activities offered by GEAR UP ensure that students start early, stay motivated, and on track. After school tutoring, educational travel opportunities, enrichment camps, parental assistance with FAFSA applications, and family emotional/social support profoundly affect these young lives. GEAR UP also ensures that students have access to technology and hot spots for wi-fi to have the tools to get their work done. As the students transition to college, GEAR UP makes laptops and other necessary equipment available.

Traci Aucoin has worked in education for 30 years and been a part of the GEAR UP initiative for ten years. She began her career as a high school biology and physics teacher before she moved into higher education where she worked at the UL Lafayette as Director of the Alumni Association, Director of Special Projects for the President, Director of University College, and Director of High School Relations.

Aucoin’s work experiences and collaborative partnerships built through the years readied her for this role as Director of GEAR UP as the program is dependent on community partnerships for its success in meeting each student’s needs. Partners such as UL-Lafayette, SLCC, United Way, Smithsonian, LSU Ag Center, the Leader In Me, CGI, and many more make GEAR UP’s mission to support activities like tutoring, mentoring, academic preparation, financial literacy and career education possible.

According to GEAR UP’s website, “The program mandates cooperation among K-12 schools, institutions of higher education, local and state education entities, businesses and community-based organizations.  These dynamic partnerships are required to leverage local resources to match the federal investment dollar for dollar, creating a common agenda that more effectively facilitates the educational aspirations and attainment of students while creating a culture of collaboration that encourages the sustainability of successful programs facilitated through GEAR UP funding.”

In preparation for the next grant cycle, GEAR UP is looking forward to working with nearly all the middle schools in Lafayette Parish. They will be applying for an unprecedented third grant cycle to build upon the success and relationships in place to continue this important work.

For more information on GEAR UP, please visit