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LEAD UP Youth Achievement Program 

The goal of the LEAD UP (Leadership, Education, Adolescent Development and Unlimited Potential) Youth Achievement Program is to provide leadership and college preparation support to high school youth who are racial and ethnic minorities. The mission of the program is to prepare underrepresented youth to thrive in high school and college through positive leadership opportunities and college readiness supports that enhances their skills, resources, and social networks. Specifically, program participants engage in short and long-term goal-setting activities, action-planning, and identifying resources to build a solid foundation for success from adolescence to young adulthood.

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​​​​For further information regarding participation and support of the LEAD UP program, please contact Dr. Jomella Watson-Thompson, LEAD UP Fa​​culty Coordinator, Associate Professor at the University of Kansas, at​ or 785-864-1563.​​​​​


What is LEAD UP?

LEAD UP provides youth with training and supports in the following areas:

  • Leadership development, including pro-social behaviors, moral development, and decision-making of youth;
  • Life-skills development and academic planning, goal-setting, and identifying resources to support student success in both high school and college completion, such as academic success planning and scholarship search strategies.
Participation in the program includes the following:

LEAD UP Summer Academy at KU

Three-day college campus visit affords LEAD UP Achievers the opportunity to receive academic and college prep training, experience resident life by residing in the dorm and eating in the cafeteria, and receive guidance and coaching from KU LEAD UP Advisory Board Members who are college staff, faculty, or students. In the Summer Academy, youth participate in sessions and gain insight from experts who work in student advising, admissions, financial aid, student support services, student money management, Trio programs, athletics, and many other departments. Youth also participate in recreational activities both on and off campus.

LEAD UP Collaboratory

The LU Collaboratory is an online platform that provides information, resources, and communication tools to support Achievers, parents, and guardians. Through the Collaboratory LEAD UP Achievers have access to the following:

  •  Achiever 365- Achiever 365 is an online blog that provides access to information and resources related to scholarships, financial aid, college admissions, and academic study tools and materials. Through the LU Collaboratory, LEAD UP Advisory Board members post short 10-minute video blogs that LU Achievers and parents/guardians can access and discuss online.  
  • Ask an LU Advisor Discussion Board- The Ask an LU Advisor Discussion Board provides an online platform to connect youth and parents/guardians to Advisory Board members who are professionals or students in college settings and can provide coaching and support.
  • Plan to AchievePlan to Achieve is an online planning tool that supports Achievers in developing an action plan to prepare for college. Achievers also receive coaching and support from LU Advisory Board members to implement their plan.
  • LU Connect- LU Connect is an online portal for parents and guardians that is available through the LU Collaboratory. Parents and Guardians also are able to stay connected and receive guidance, support, and access to LU Advisory Board Members through LU Connect.   
  • LU Achieves- The accomplishments of LU Achievers are recognized and shared with other youth, parents/guardians, and advisory board members through the LU Achieves online tool.


Achievers meet to share and discuss their goals, progress, and aspirations at least quarterly (some groups may meet monthly). The LEAD UP Meet Up also provide opportunities for Achievers to participate with other Achievers in positive recreational or leisure activities coordinated through the LU community partner programs.  

Who are LEAD UP participants and partners?

LEAD UP participants in the pilot program are youth in 9th through 12th grades from Lawrence, the Kansas City metro area, and the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

The youth who are involved in the program are generally affiliated with community-based partner organizations. Key community partners have included: Cheyenne River Sioux Title 1 Program (South Dakota); Tabernacle Community Development Center, Inc. (Kansas City, MO); Made Men, Inc. (Kansas City, KS); and the Full Circle Youth Program with Edgewood Homes Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority (Lawrence, KS).

There are also a host of academic-based partners who collaborate to support the LEAD UP program. The LEAD UP Advisory Board reflects the participation of many of the academic and campus-based partners.

Land Acknowledgement:

The Center for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas acknowledges that the University of Kansas resides on the ancestral territory of several tribal nations, including the Kaw, Osage, and Shawnee peoples. Specifically, the University occupies land taken from these nations.

This land acknowledgement recognizes that Native Americans are traditional guardians of the land and that there is an enduring relationship between Native peoples and these traditional territories.

In addition, we recognize, advocate, and support the sovereignty of the four-federally recognized tribes of Kansas, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska and the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska.​


Why is LEAD UP important?

LEAD UP provides unique opportunities for racial and ethnic minority youth, including:
  • Multiple opportunities for minority youth to visit a college campus including the University of Kansas, Metropolitan Community College, Haskell Indian Nations University, and other partner colleges. LEAD Up Youth Participants can visit the partner campuses each year they are in the program. If a youth starts participating in LEAD UP in the summer before entering 9th grade and successfully continues in the program through 12th grade, the youth will have participated in eight college visits at the University of Kansas and the institutions of the other LEAD UP College Network partners.
  • Promote engagement, interactions, and the development of positive social networks between LEAD UP youth participants and parents, college students and peer advisors, and college faculty and staff.
  • Develop college readiness and leadership skills of youth LEAD UP participants to promote high school and college completion.
  • Provides access to staff, faculty and students in college campuses to gain their insight, knowledge, and expertise for how to prepare and be successful in college.

How can I be Involved in LEAD UP?

There are several ways that you can be involved in LEAD UP including as:
  • LEAD UP Youth Achiever - If you are in 9th through 12th grade, and are interested in enhancing your leadership skills and college readiness, then consider applying to participate in the LEAD UP program.
  • LEAD UP Guide - If you are currently enrolled and attending college, then consider serving as a college peer advisor to provide guidance and support to a LEAD UP Participant.
  • LEAD UP College Network Partner - If you are affiliated with a community college or 4-year college or university, then consider how to be part of the college network.
  • LEAD UP Collaborator - If you are an individual, organization, foundation, or funding agency, with an interest in youth developme​​nt, leadership development, and/or college preparation and readiness, particularly for racial and ethnic minorities, then LEAD UP is an appropriate program in which to invest.


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