‘It felt like Georgetown was built for us’: First-gen student reflects on his GSP experience

As part of its “Spirit of Georgetown” storytelling series, Georgetown University recently highlighted alumnus Andy Marquez (SFS’21) and how he experienced the university’s commitment to cura personalis—a profound care for the whole person and their unique circumstances, gifts, and possibilities. 

‘They made me feel that I was seen, that I was wanted’ 

Marquez grew up in a low-income neighborhood of Los Angeles, the son of Salvadoran immigrants. As he prepared to graduate as salutatorian from his Cristo Rey Jesuit high school, Marquez focused on colleges that could offer substantial financial aid. He was accepted to almost every school, including Georgetown, which commits to meeting the full demonstrated financial need of admitted U.S. students.

Marquez also quickly received a call from the Georgetown Scholars Program (GSP), which supports low-income and first-generation college students during their four years. Since its founding in 2004, GSP has provided robust wraparound services and resources for more than 1,500 students—including microgrants for emergent needs, mental health counseling, a course created by a Pulitzer Prize-winning professor on navigating higher education’s “hidden curriculum”, peer and alumni mentors, tutoring, events, and a close-knit community. 

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According to a 2021 Pew Research Center study, the average graduation rate for first-generation college students is 26 percent in the U.S. For first-generation undergraduate students enrolled in GSP, it’s 94 percent.

The early outreach from GSP “made me feel that I was seen, that I was wanted, that I deserved a spot there, and I had earned a spot there,” Marquez says. “I knew that if I was going to get through college, especially with parents who did not speak English and did not understand the process, I would need a village to help me through. And Georgetown won me over.”

‘A one-stop-shop for everything’

In 2017, Marquez enrolled in Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and became part of both GSP and the Community Scholars Program (CSP), an academic program founded more than 50 years ago that provides holistic support for multicultural first-generation college students. When Marquez first landed in Washington, D.C., a GSP alumnus was at the airport to pick him up so he wouldn’t have to arrive to college alone.

GSP’s support was instrumental in helping Marquez thrive as a member of the Georgetown community, he says. “I felt like an outsider my first year. I had a lot of self-doubt,” he recalls. “But the Georgetown Scholars Program broke down those barriers. …When I was with that community, it felt like Georgetown was built for us.” 

Marquez says that GSP became his “one-stop-shop for everything: academic, emotional, mental needs. They even paid for my emergency root canal surgery; that was the kind of support I received.” 

Creating a ripple effect—at GSP and at home

During his time at Georgetown, Marquez worked, played sports, and volunteered at nonprofits and at his local church. Inspired to “pay it forward,” he also mentored other GSP students and pursued a leadership position on the GSP Student Board, where he began developing additional programming, including financial literacy, professional development, wellness, and intramural opportunities. 

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Marquez created a Learn from Home grant program, recognizing that it would be difficult for many low-income students to attend Georgetown virtually without supplemental resources. “Hundreds of students used the grant to buy monitors, keyboards, desks, chairs, lamps, you name it,” Marquez says. 

Marquez graduated in 2021 and is now a wealth management analyst at UBS, working 15 minutes away from where he grew up. He also mentors high school and undergraduate students, serves as a campus ambassador for UBS, and is working to strengthen the connection between South Central Los Angeles and Georgetown. “There’s still going to be kids like me with so much potential but feeling trapped in the system, and Georgetown and GSP could be that hope, that make or break,” he says.

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