At Mason, a dedication to promoting inclusion is part of what drives our mission as a university; the Honors College and Early Identification Program (EIP) work together to foster inclusive excellence. For the last decade, the Honors College and EIP have closely collaborated to develop an enriching program for first generation college students in Northern Virginia, including the College Application Coaches program and the Research and Discovery Seminar as part of EIP’s Summer Academy.
The partnership works to supplement EIP’s year-round academic enrichment and personal and social development program for middle and high school college-bound first-generation college students, while supporting the Honors College’s commitment to promoting access to impactful academic, civic, and professional experiences for motivated students.
“The partnership has allowed for us to think of creative ways to be the premier providers of opportunities for students, to adjust and refine our practices, and to enhance our sustained engagement with the students,” says EIP Executive Director Dr. Khaseem Davis. That creativity is reflected in EIP’s collaboration with the Honors College.
Created in 1987, the Early Identification Program works with seven public school systems in Northern Virginia, serving students who will be the first of their family to attend college in the U.S. The program helps students prepare for college while gaining a familiarity with the American higher education system that will enable them to confidently navigate the college application process.
“Many students grew up with few resources and help support and sustain their households, all the while performing extremely well academically,” says Dr. Davis. “These students enter EIP displaying a great deal of grit, fortitude, and resilience. Our task is how can we get our students to view themselves as scholars? How can we help them see a snapshot of the rigor and opportunity that exists at Mason?”
Beginning in eighth grade and continuing through their senior year of high school, EIP students participate in a series of programs designed to further cultivate their intellectual curiosity, and leadership potential. This includes the annual three-week Summer Academy where students explore their academic, professional, and civic interests.
During Summer Academy, Honors College instructors and student mentors host the Research and Discovery Seminar – an abridged version of the first-semester research course HNRS 110: Principles of Research and Inquiry – to introduce rising high school sophomores to the research process. EIP students engage in inquiry-based learning in the college classroom by developing a project around their own curiosity and interests. In the process, they build skills and experiences that can bolster their college applications later.
Dr. Nadeen Makhlouf prepares current Honors College students to become mentors for the Research and Discovery Seminar in her class, HNRS 261: Peer Mentorship in Honors. Through this community connection practicum, students assist in developing the summer seminar and learn how to plan and lead class sessions, facilitate conversations, and support idea generation. Providing insight into the language, processes and dynamics of college life, the student mentors help to illustrate how EIP students can take advantage of various resources and opportunities while in college.
During the spring of their junior year of high school, these same EIP students will be paired with Honors College students enrolled in HNRS 261: College Application Coaches. College Application Coaches help EIP students brainstorm, develop, and workshop resumes and essays to help create strong college applications. Coaches learn how to provide effective mentorship and support students in their drive and readiness to succeed in a higher education environment. Since 2016, the Honors College has supported over 900 EIP students with College Application Coaches.
Earning credit, building transferable skills, learning about and addressing access issues – through both Mr. Makhlouf’s Peer Mentorship in Honors and Dr. Aimee Weinstein’s College Application Coaches classes, student mentors and coaches themselves have many opportunities to develop while using their talents to promote inclusivity at Mason.
For Dr. Makhlouf, this is the highlight of her work: “any of the moments where I see mentors walk away feeling good that they got someone excited about college or research,” she shares, is a rewarding moment for her.
EIP students graduate from the program prepared to achieve their higher education goals and have a fulfilling Mason and Honors College experience. They enter with faculty and peer connections, familiarity with research, and increased confidence that will serve them well in college and beyond. Each year EIP alumni accepted to the Honors College are among those awarded full tuition scholarships. Currently 21 EIP alumni are part of the University Scholars Program that four-year, full-tuition scholarships to a cohort of outstanding Honors College students. Three of the current EIP alumni are also College of Science Promise Scholars who receive additional support that covers their full cost of attendance plus a grant to fund research while they are at Mason.
“These students may not have had the same opportunities before joining EIP,” said Dr. Davis, “but they embody excellence.” Through the partnership between EIP and the Honors College, these students have the opportunity to show this excellence in action.