For this University Scholar, the choice was always Mason


Spogmai Ahmadzai’s life changed with a single question from her middle school English teacher.

The teacher asked if anyone in Ahmadzai’s family attended college. The answer was no for the girl born in Kabul, Afghanistan, who immigrated with her family to the United States at age 9 and had to learn English while repeating fourth grade.

“I had no idea that question would pertain to my future,” said Ahmadzai, now a biology major at George Mason University. “I never would have guessed that there was such a thing as [the Early Identification Program (EIP)].”

EIP is Mason’s college preparatory program for first-generation students. Working with seven school systems in Northern Virginia, the program provides college-bound middle and high school students with year-round opportunities in academic enrichment, leadership training, and college and career exploration.

Ahmadzai joined EIP in 7th grade and took advantage of all the resources it has to offer. “EIP really helped me with the transition to college.”

She said assistance with the application process, college essays, and “the support of all the mentors” helped her avoid some of the difficulties her friends encountered. It also helped her realize that Mason was the school for her.

“I chose Mason because of the diversity,” she said. “I thought that I wouldn't feel like an outsider here. I will feel comfortable, and I can be myself. I can feel at home here.”

When Ahmadzai received the letter inviting her to be a University Scholar, she said she didn’t quite believe it. As she told friends and family about the four-year scholarship, they all told her they thought she deserved it. Now she sees it as a testament to all her hard work.

“[The scholarship] represents all the hardship and hard work that I put in all those years,” she said. “It is a wonderful opportunity.”

Through EIP, Ahmadzai also had the opportunity to participate in the social sciences research through the Youth Research Council [YRC], a partnership of the Sociology and Anthropology Department’s Center for Social Science Research and EIP.

“As a member of the Youth Research Council, I had the wonderful opportunity to learn about the experiences of students who were subjected to racism and discrimination,” said Ahmadzai, who helped conduct surveys and interviews with area high school students. 

Admadzai was surprised at the survey results. She said their work also helped raise awareness. They found that some students were so accustomed to what they were experiencing that they didn’t recognize racism when they experienced it.

“I definitely am glad that I was part of something like [YRC],” she said. “You might think that, ‘Oh, I'm just so different,’ or think ‘I'm alone.’ But in reality, there's always somebody who is also struggling, just like you.”

Admadzai aspires to a career in dentistry. She said she realizes that there were many different majors she could have chosen to prepare for dental school, but selected biology because of her interest in the environment and the “world of living things.”

As a member of the Honors College, Admadzai gets immersed in research her first year. As she tries to decide on a topic for her research project, she said she hopes to grow as a researcher and leader during her time at Mason.