Since the beginning of Arizona GEAR UP, Ann Connelly has been a constant in the program, but in October, she will retire following a 20-year tenure at Arizona GEAR UP.
Ann first joined GEAR UP in 2001 after GEAR UP was introduced at the school where she worked as a counselor. As a coach, Ann worked with a cohort of 7th grade students. During her time as a coach, she found a passion for working with middle grade students.
“I liked working with middle grade students because they have all this enthusiasm. You can capture that and motivate them to succeed early on,” Ann said.
After years of working as a coach, Ann decided to move to the main GEAR UP office and join the staff as the Middle Grade Program Manager. In her new role, Ann flourished—trailblazing a new route for middle grade students in the GEAR UP program. Before Ann arrived, AZGU focused primarily on high school students and graduation, but Ann helped expand the program to include middle grades.
“I felt like this is such a unique way to help students. It was different than being a teacher or counselor, and we had the ability to offer opportunities to students that nobody else could and make a positive impact,” Ann said.
With her work and dedication, she focused on helping middle grade students complete their Education and Career Action Plan (ECAP) by the time they left middle school. The ECAP helps students develop a plan that maps out their journey to their desired career. This includes required coursework, school admissions, and career aspirations. Ann helped develop multiple programs dedicated to assisting students complete their ECAP.
This focus drove Ann and the GEAR UP team to create Discover Guide, which is a one-stop-shop resource that helps students explore their interests and passions, and learn how these things can inform their future career path.
Ann’s work helped raise the bar in Arizona. Before her work with GEAR UP, students completed their ECAP during high school. Thanks to the Discover Guide, preparation starts early, and students have the resources and support to complete the ECAP as early as 8th grade.
The dedication and presence of Ann Connelly has positively impacted the lives of thousands of students and educators throughout the state. But it doesn’t end there, our GEAR UP office is grateful to have worked with Ann for all these years.
“Ann has dedicated her career to supporting students as a counselor, and more recently with leading programs that focus on early college awareness programs. Her contributions to middle-grade college access program have supported many students to build a college-going identity and aspirations. In addition to her professional contributions, she has also personally made strong connections among her GEAR UP colleagues. Ann is the colleague in the office who always listens and cares for others – she shows empathy to all, remembers birthdays, asks for baby pictures, shares lunch with you when you need company, and always shares a laugh when you need it most. Although Ann will be missed, we are happy that she will be able to spend her days doing what she loves most – spending time with her children and the (13) dogs that she has rescued or trying new foods and restaurants with friends and family!”
-Andrea González Sotelo, GEAR UP Assistant Director
“Everyone at GEAR UP congratulates Ann on her retirement. We’re going to miss her and her kind spirit. It has been such a pleasure to work with Ann, and we thank her for all she’s contributed to the success of Arizona GEAR UP. She’s made a huge impact, including all the students, parents, educators, and others her work has positively impacted. She made a difference in the lives she touched. I hope she enjoys this new chapter, and I hope it’s filled with good health, fun, and peace.”
-Robert Neese, Arizona GEAR UP Director
After retirement, Ann plans to remain busy helping others as she has done for years. Her love for animals and people will likely see her volunteering at animal shelters and working to support those in need. And of course, she plans to spend time with her 13 dogs: Hannibal, Fester, Elvira, Lizzie, Millie, Menorah, Olive, Minky, Klaus, Maizie, Lilith, Frank, and Honey Boo Boo.