‘For the first time in the classroom, I felt seen’: Georgetown graduate reflects on leaving behind a legacy for first-gen students

Sofia Chen Ma (B’23) graduated from the McDonough School of Business on May 20. For three of her four years at Georgetown, she served on the student board (most recently as president) of the Georgetown Scholars Program (GSP), a program for low-income, first-generation students. In a first-person narrative—excerpts below—she reflects on her path from Mexico to Georgetown, the legacy she leaves behind, and the person who inspired her to take risks. 

I visited Georgetown during Hoya Saxa Weekend in 2019. I was with other first-generation, low-income students, and a majority of us were seeing campus for the first time. Everyone was so excited.

When I entered the school, something clicked. I was like, this feels right. But I didn’t allow myself to say that until I saw my financial aid package. I didn’t want to hold onto hope.

At the end of the weekend, I went to the financial aid office. The financial aid counselor turned her monitor around and pointed to a number. She said, ‘This is your financial aid.’ The number was insane. I had never seen that much money in my life. I took a breath and held back tears. I had been bottling up four years of worries and tensions and aspirations into that one moment.

I left the office and stood outside Healy, knowing I had a full ride and would be spending my next four years here. I called my mom, crying on the phone.

I said, ‘Hey mom, I think I’m coming to the school and am going to major in business.’  She said, ‘See, I told you that four years ago.’

I hate when my mom’s right. But she was right.

Chen Ma applied and was accepted to the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown in 2019. She became involved in GSP, which provides financial assistance and robust wraparound services for hundreds of students each year—including access to mental health counseling, peer and alumni mentors, tutoring, career development events, a close-knit community, and a a course on navigating higher education’s “hidden curriculum.”

My first semester, we went on a site visit to Deloitte’s headquarters across the bridge [from Georgetown]. Everyone was wearing suits. I didn’t have enough money for a suit or professional clothes. I just had a button-up shirt and nice pants. I was like, what is Deloitte? What are the ‘big three’ consulting firms?

It was a stark reality hearing people talk about things that seemed normal to them that were new to me. I knew I was behind the curve. I started trying to mold myself into what I thought I needed to be.

That semester, I took a class that was led by professors who were once first-generation, low-income college students called Mastering the Hidden Curriculum. It was an environment where we would just go in and talk about the things we experienced day-to-day. For me, being able to vocalize what I was experiencing and listening to other people vocalize a lot of my issues was eye-opening. For the first time in the classroom, I felt seen.

The class and the Georgetown Scholars Program (GSP) helped me realize that I could remove myself from the path I was trying to follow and still be OK. I didn’t need to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. I went home [for Christmas break] and returned with a new perspective.

I wouldn’t have been myself if GSP hadn’t pushed me to take the Mastering the Hidden Curriculum course, to apply for grants, to apply for things I didn’t know I needed. Through the program, I was given all these pillars of support because people before me thought about what I would’ve needed.

I felt the pull to do that for others.

Read more about Chen Ma’s goals to make the financial services industry more equitable and inclusive and her efforts to ensure that future Hoyas, including her brother David, thrive as she did.

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