What’s the ‘secret sauce’ in a successful first-gen student program like GSP? The student voice.

Noting the importance of emotional, financial, and professional development support for first-generation college students, Georgetown Scholars Program (GSP) alumnae, staff, and supporters came together during John Carroll Weekend in Boston to discuss how GSP contributes to first-generation student success—and the significance of student voices in guiding the program’s work. Moderated by former GSP Board Chair James “Jimmy” Eisenstein (B’80), the panel included GSP alumnae Bserat Ghebremicael (B’17) and Edom Tesfa (F’18); Corey Stewart (F’15), GSP director of outreach and engagement; and Matthew Luckett (C’94), a current GSP Board member.

Noting GSP’s 96 percent graduation rate for first-generation students—compared to 31 percent nationwide—Eisenstein asked Stewart to describe the program’s “special sauce.” Stewart attributed GSP’s success to having dedicated staff, which allows the program to center the student, and to focusing on listening to and building relationships with students. Tesfa agreed, noting that she secured an undergraduate research assistant position with guidance from GSP staff on how to reach out to a professor whose work interested her. In addition, Stewart’s encouragement led Tesfa to apply for a Ph.D., a path she hadn’t previously believed was available to her; now, she’s working toward that PhD at Harvard University.

“Hard work got me to Georgetown, but GSP got me through it,” Ghebremicael said, highlighting not only the financial support she received through the professional development fund (which allowed her to buy GMAT prep books during her senior year) and the necessity fund (which covered her food costs during school breaks), but also the emotional support of her “home away from home.”

“I felt protected, safe, like I could be myself,” said Ghebremicael, who now works at Google.

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