WEST WINDSOR – With a Psychology degree and established as a successful entrepreneur, Trenton native and SMILE/GEAR UP alumnus Mia Sapp returned to Mercer County Community College to deliver the keynote address at the program’s annual awards ceremony with one simple message: Believe in yourself.
This year 71 SMILE/GEAR UP students will graduate from high school, with many earning scholarships and going on to colleges that include The College of New Jersey, Rider University, Rutgers University, Montclair State, Johnson and Wales, St. Peter’s, Stockton, Ramapo, College of St. Elizabeth, Bloomfield, Rowan, and Kean University. About 30 will begin their college careers at MCCC.
Sapp addressed a packed house at MCCC’s Kelsey Theatre, which included participants in the SMILE/GEAR UP program, along with their family and friends. MCCC’s SMILE/GEAR UP is an early intervention program for Trenton middle and high school students, with a six-week summer program and a 20-week session during the academic year. The program is designed to stimulate the interest of students through personal, academic and career counseling, and tutoring to improve vocabulary, reading, writing, and test-taking skills.
Sapp credits the program with changing her attitude, and her life.
“The only thing I ever wanted to do with my life was to live life,” Sapp said. “I never thought of college. I didn’t see enough people like me attend college.”
But after getting involved with SMILE/GEAR UP, she said, that all changed. She said the program provided SAT prep classes, tutoring, and summer college classes.
“SMILE prepared me for college,” Sapp said. “It prepared me, and I learned that my only real competition was myself. I was going to graduate from college despite my struggles. Don’t let your struggles predict your future.”
While still in school Sapp’s family relocated from Trenton to Mt. Holly, where she remained active in the SMILE/GEAR UP program and graduated from Rancocas Valley Regional High School. She went on to Kean University, earning her bachelor’s degree in Psychology. In college, Sapp was the vice president of the Pan African Student Union, and a Platinum Leadership member. She has since started her own pastry business, Boujetta’s Pastry, and is a member of the National Association of University Women.
Sapp has served as a summer mentor for the SMILE/GEAR UP program, and she took a position as a middle school counselor this past academic year. She plans to pursue her master’s degree in School Counseling this fall.
“It takes a village to raise a child, and I am proud SMILE/GEAR UP is part of my village,” Sapp said. “If you want it, it’s yours. You may have 99 problems, but don’t let chasing your dreams be one of them.”
The ceremony recognized students for special projects, outstanding achievement, and perfect attendance, as well as a team participating in the national Cyber Patriot competition, which finished second in the state. Staff and parent volunteers were also recognized for outstanding contributions, and scholarships were awarded.
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