My interest in the educational system in the United States stems from my versatile schooling background. I attended elementary school in a nationally renowned public school system; sixth and seventh grade at an all-girls, private college preparatory school; eighth to eleventh grade I was enrolled in a small, coeducational, college preparatory school. All three schools were highly ranked, well funded, and mostly white.
In the 2010-2011 school year, I was given the opportunity to pursue a career in dance, an activity in which I had been training intensively since the age of three. At the time I believed this was the gateway to my future, so I moved to Pittsburgh to dance with Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. I still needed to complete my senior year of high school, luckily the ballet program had a partnership with Pittsburgh Public Schools. I began to attend the now former Schenley High School, an inner-city school with an IB program in which a small part of its student population participated in.
Schenley was seventy percent African American, an environment I am ashamed to say shocked me at first. It made me realize how sheltered and privileged my life had been. I saw many of my fellow Schenley classmates who came from at-risk backgrounds flounder, when I knew they could succeed at the level of IB students if they were given the correct guidance and support.
As I arrived at Mason, my experience in Pittsburgh continued to haunt me. The diversity of the George Mason student body contrasted with the sparsely diverse Honors College led me to question, “why.” Why was it that at Mason, where Innovation is Tradition, the diversity of its top students was stuck in the 1970’s. I heard questions such as these from the few non-white students who occupied the Honors College: they felt culturally and racially isolated.
My sophomore year, I was introduced to the newly hired Honors Admissions officer, Grace Zamorano. She identified with many of the qualms expressed by my classmates; she was a first-generation Mexican American traditional college student. She and I agreed that the Honors College should be involved in more local Early-Intervention College outreach programs, and with the assistance of the Admissions office, the Honors College “Educational Exchange and Outreach” (EE&O) program was formed. It began as a way to give at-risk first generation local middle school students a personal experience of a college campus through student led tours. However, when I began to research other programs like EE&O, I came up empty handed.
There are many studies indicating concluding that there is not enough research done on Early Intervention College Access programs. There were many well-conducted studies indicating what was wrong with Early Intervention College Access programs, but nothing indicating a pursuit of why there were problems and steps that should be taken to solve them.
My personal, first-hand experience as a tutor, peer, and mentor to first-generation and at risk college students has led me to peruse what I believe to be a significant question pertaining to the United States education system: “Are programs geared towards assisting at-risk and first generation student getting accepted into college and universities, and maintaining a successful academic and social career at these institutions effective?” In other words, do these programs work?