Mason’s Early Identification Program for local students pivots to online services

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Mason student Carlos Alvarez-Ayion helps Matias Nicholls of the Early Identification Program during a cybersecurity class at STEM Fusion in February 2020. Photo by Lathan Goumas/Office of Communications and Marketing

When the coronavirus pandemic shut down her school, Meeha Bhuiyan, a rising senior at Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge, Virginia, struggled. But Bhuiyan had mentors from George Mason University upon whom she could rely.

“I texted my mentors when I was down, and they would text me back encouragement,” said Bhuiyan, who plans to apply to several colleges, including Mason. “And I was also able to do one-on-one sessions with them virtually.”

Bhuiyan, 16, is a participant in Mason’s Early Identification Program (EIP), an extensive outreach effort to more than 700 first-generation college-bound students in the Northern Virginia area. EIP provides access to educational resources for students from seven local public school systems, including Fairfax County, Prince William County and Alexandria City. The program is intended to equip students with skills that will help them become lifelong learners, leaders and responsible global citizens.

The program has always focused on in-person mentoring and enrichment classes in which students can meet other students with similar aspirations. However, during the pandemic shutdown, EIP, just like all programming at Mason, was forced to pivot to online platforms.

EIP staff, teachers and student mentors switched to Blackboard Collaborate, an online learning platform, to reach students and Zoom to communicate with families, said Khaseem Davis, EIP director.

“We had to be flexible and find new ways to engage our students online,” Davis said.

Davis said they are planning a robust online program for the fall in which students will receive academic support and college and career preparation in a “virtual space.” He plans to recruit aggressively and is anticipating getting additional help from College of Education and Human Development students who are training to be teachers.

Established in 1987, EIP is a multiyear college preparatory program for middle and high school students who will be the first in their families to attend college.

EIP participation begins in eighth grade. To participate, students are nominated by school counselors and apply at the end of seventh grade. Students who successfully complete the program and meet Mason’s admissions requirements are guaranteed admission.

Students who participate in the program said they have a support system that helps them concentrate on their academic success and preparation for college. In addition, they rely on Mason students, many of whom are Honors College students and EIP alumni, as mentors, often making lasting friendships.

“It’s another family supporting me in my goal to go to college,” said Bhuiyan, who plans to study biology.

During a normal school year, Mason students meet in person with EIP participants to tutor and mentor them at their schools or at Mason. Students also attend STEM fusion classes during the school year on Mason’s Fairfax Campus, as well as a three-week academic enrichment program in the summer.

This summer, however, students attended Summer Academy, a three-week enrichment program virtually using Blackboard Collaborate. Jhenesy Lopez, a rising senior at George C. Marshall High School in Fairfax County, said she enjoyed the online classes and appreciated that she didn’t have to travel back and forth to Mason.

“The classes were to-the-point and helpful,” said Lopez, 17.

Lopez said she is looking forward to the fall and getting guidance on her college applications. She is planning on applying to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Stanford University, to name a few.

“I’m sure they will figure out a really good way to make sure we get the assistance we need,” Lopez said.