At George Mason University, we believe that while talent and passion are distributed equally, opportunity is not. So we look for the talent other institutions miss, and proudly welcome those who are prepared to take on the rigor of pursuing a degree at Virginia’s largest public research university.
We take our role as an institution serving a student body that represents diversity of all kinds seriously, and expanding opportunities for students in financial need is a fundamental part of this mission. Many of our students are the first in their families to pursue a college degree, and they need our support in many ways to be successful.
In fiscal year 2022, the George Mason University Foundation was able to offer 1,300 scholarships to students, all made possible by gifts from alumni and friends of Mason.
Scholarship recipient Betzy Balladares Oviedo, an Honors College student majoring in social work, says she’s grateful “not just for financial assistance, but inspiration for excellence…I will do everything in my power to make [the scholarship] count.”
Mason is in the business of guiding students like Balladares Oviedo toward success. However, the university relies on the generosity of donors such as the Kimmy Duong Foundation, which funded Balladares Oviedo’s scholarship, to ensure students have the necessary resources.
As the university moves into its ambitious fundraising campaign, the support of our donors continues to be crucial.
For Trishana E. Bowden, president of the George Mason University Foundation and Mason’s vice president for advancement and alumni affairs, that inspiration for excellence that Balladares Oviedo speaks of is a powerful catalyst that can propel a student to make the most of their opportunities.
“The proof of your impact is right here in front of you,” she says. “Any time you have a chance to meet George Mason University students in person, to get to know them a little bit and hear their stories, you realize just how great an investment you are making when you donate to scholarships. And it is a wonderful feeling to know that your generosity is truly making a difference in their lives.”
In this feature, we’d like to introduce you to some of those Mason students and graduates.
Computer Science, Kelsie R. Troutman Endowed Scholarship Recipient
College didn’t always look like a possibility for computer science major Bianca Akins. Akins’s mother passed away when she was 11, and family financial hardships made pursuing a college degree challenging. But she persevered.
“With the federal loans and grants, I was able to support my first semester,” Akins says, “but then I got my second semester bill and I started to panic.”
Then she received the Kelsie R. Troutman Endowed Scholarship, one of a number of scholarships supporting students in Mason’s College of Engineering and Computing.
“It was just a huge relief,” she says. “I felt safe knowing that I could go into my next semester of college and not have to worry about my financial situation.”
Growing up, school was always a safe place for Akins. “I always felt comfort in it, and I really loved learning and growing.”
The scholarship offered Akins immediate help with her college expenses, but it also created a more lasting effect: It was a vote of confidence for her, especially as a woman pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
“For somebody to see that potential in me and to be able to recognize me and grant me a scholarship, I feel like that's telling me that I can do it,” she says. “It gives me the determination to continue on into the future. I would love to one day be able to help people in the way that I've been helped.”
Psychology, Dean’s Challenge Scholarship, and 2022 Alumni Chapter Scholar Award Recipient
Honors College student Jordan Hassani, BS Psychology ’23, has been involved in Mason research since arriving on campus his freshman year from his hometown of San Diego, California.
After taking a class on executive function with Mason psychology professor Sabine Doebel, he asked to work in her lab. Since then, he has been a research assistant in the Developing Minds Lab, where the work focuses on executive function and working memory in preschoolers. He recently completed his honors thesis with Doebel as his advisor and received the Outstanding Honors Thesis Award. His peers also voted him Best Honors Researcher.
During his time at Mason, he received a Dean's Challenge Scholarship from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS), an award that was established in 2007 to acknowledge exceptional undergraduates who have excelled while making academically challenging choices. More recently, he received the 2022 Alumni Chapter Scholar Award. He says he has also received travel grants from Mason that have enabled him to present his research at conferences.
“College is incredibly expensive, so every bit helps,” says Hassani, who aspires to one day earn a PhD. “And it is nice to be recognized.”
Hassani, who graduated in May, said the travel grants he received from the Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR) were critical in his development as a researcher. It’s a skill he used throughout the spring as he applied to full-time research positions around the country to get some more experience before applying to PhD programs in the extremely competitive field of clinical psychology.
“These awards have enabled me to travel around the United States presenting at four different national conferences,” he says. “I am grateful for what that financial assistance has enabled me to do.”
Neuroscience, Pre-Med, University Scholar, and Merten-Womble Scholarship Recipient
One of the first hurdles Honors College student Stacy Maravi had to overcome in her pursuit of a college education was at home. Maravi admits that, in the beginning, her parents were skeptical and didn’t see college as a path.
This is where the Early Identification Program (EIP), Mason’s college preparatory program for first-generation students in partnership with area public school systems, helped this former Fairfax High School student follow her dream of medical school and becoming a neurologist.
“I knew I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to make an impact on the world,” says Maravi. “EIP helped me strive for higher education. [They] gave me a support system and helped me get that push and have that confidence in pursuing college.”
Not only was Maravi able to secure a spot as a University Scholar, a program that provides tuition and fees for high-achieving students, she also received a Merten-Womble Scholarship, which is an endowed award that supplements a University Scholar award by covering room and board.
“Without EIP, I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am,” says Maravi. “I hope to pay it forward one day to help a student who is in the same situation to achieve their dreams.”
Colleen Kearney Rich, MFA ’95, contributed to this story.
This story will appear in the Summer 2023 of the Mason Spirit.
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