Fitchburg’s Victor Rojas Named GEAR UP Professional of the Year

Victor Rojas, Assistant Director of GEAR UP, has been named GEAR UP Professional of the Year by the National Council for Community Education Partnerships (NCCEP) at their annual conference.

The Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) initiative is one of the largest and most effective programs focused on increasing college and career readiness of low-income students in communities nationwide. GEAR UP targets entire grades of students, partnering with local organizations and business, and matching Federal Department of Education funds with local contributions, allowing projects to support large number of students. The NCCEP leadership awards honors students, family leaders, community partners, and professionals from the GEAR UP community.

The GEAR UP Professional of the Year is awarded to an individual who is committed to the GEAR UP movement and the goal of ensuring that college access and success is available to all students. Through their work with GEAR UP, the awardee demonstrates the passion and perseverance to assist low-income students in their quest to attain a college education.

“As an educator, a soldier, a husband, a father, and proud grandfather, Victor encapsulates the GEAR UP mission,” NCCEP noted in a statement.

“In the past ten years, Fitchburg High School has achieved its highest level of attendance, graduation rates, students earning dual enrollment credits, students passing Advanced Placement tests, and our lowest suspension and dropout rates,” states Fitchburg High School Principal Jeremy Roache. “Mr. Rojas dogged efforts have much to do with those results.”

Twenty co-workers and community members submitted letters of recommendation to the NCCEP in support of Rojas nomination as Professional of the Year, detailing his qualities, accomplishments, and contribution to the success of the GEAR UP students.

“Victor is always committed to making sure 100% of students are receiving the support that GEAR UP promised. His work goes above and beyond,” noted Peter Chirichiello, GEAR UP Director. “When the school day is over, he is helping everyone with their college applications and financial aid forms. Even when our students were in sixth and seventh grade, he would stay late and make home visits. GEAR UP is not a job for Victor, it is a way of life.”

Born in Puerto Rico, Rojas moved to Fitchburg when he was very young and without speaking any English. Despite this hurdle, he excelled as a student in the Fitchburg Public School system, and went on to become the first in his family to graduate from college, earning his bachelors from Fitchburg State University and his Masters of Education from Cambridge College.

He became involved in the GEAR UP Program in 1999 when it was first introduced in Fitchburg. In addition to the countless students he has impacted, he has personally trained and mentored dozens of college access staff. His experience coupled with a strong sense of duty and responsibility has helped to build an entire cadre of dedicated college access professionals who are culturally competent, willing to go the extra mile for students, and who fully understand the importance of this work to the entire community.

“I have had the pleasure of working and supervising many passionate professional educators, but Victor stands in a special place amongst his peers. I have known Mr. Rojas for over twenty years and have witnessed, firsthand, his innate ability to build strong relationships with our students and extended families,” noted Craig Chalifoux, Director of Finance and Operations for Fitchburg Public Schools. “His passion is outweighed only by his compassion for families and the incredible obstacles they face as they enter the financial aid process and try to understand how this is even a possibility for their child. Victor is kind, understanding, and presents a sense of great hopefulness for families and students as they face longstanding institutional bias and systems that are set-up to disenfranchise so many of our families.”

“Victor is known as Mr. GEAR UP. He has worked on every GEAR UP grant at our institution since the very first grant in 1999,” added Shaunti Phillips, Academic Counselor. “Having walked the same path as many of his students, Victor is able to lead and guide them to be the best that they can be and achieve their dreams.”

“For years I have heard stories about Victor Rojas’ impact with students at Fitchburg High School. I have come to know first-hand how much Victor has transformed lives over the past twenty years,” says Fagan Forhan, Assistant Dean, K-12 Partnerships & Civic Engagement at MWCC. “Every time we are at a community event former students approach him to share their successes and tell the rest of us how much he helped them.”

Visit to learn more about the GEAR UP Fitchburg program.