From Participants to Mentors, Early Identification Program Students Come Full Circle

Posted: July 10, 2014 at 5:01 am, Last Updated: July 9, 2014 at 10:25 pm

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By Sudha Kamath

They joined George Mason University’s Early Identification Program as eighth graders. Now, they’re George Mason students or graduates, and this month they’ll mentor the next generation of middle and high schoolers at the program’s Summer Academy.

Seventeen Mason students or alumni will mentor about 350 high school students on Mason’s Fairfax Campus; seven will mentor about 140 high school students on Mason’s Prince William Campus. The high schoolers aim to become the first generation in their families to attend college. They are from the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park; and the counties of Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William.

"EIP Summer Academy"

Mentor Jhessyka Vargas, center, works with students participating in the Early Identification Program Summer Academy at Mason’s Fairfax Campus. Photo by Creative Services.

The Summer Academy, which runs from July 7 to 25, focuses on math, English, science and technology prep, as well as workshops on study, life and leadership skills, and career development. New elements include a Virginia history course on the Fairfax Campus, and a forensics course on the Prince William Campus.

Henry Lopez joined the Early Identification Program as an eighth grader at Glasgow Middle School in Fairfax County and continued through graduation in 2013 from JEB Stuart High School in Falls Church, Va. He joined Mason as a computer science major at the Volgeneau School of Engineering. During the past school year, Lopez mentored Early Identification Program students at Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

He will mentor at the Summer Academy for the first time this year. “I’m looking forward to creating a stronger relationship with a group since I’ll be staying with the same students next summer,” he says. “We’ll get to talk one-on-one and follow up. I’ll know their struggles and their successes.”

Lopez knows first-hand the life-changing impact the Early Identification Program has on families. His sister, Yuri, also completed the program and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications from Mason. “We are first-generation college students in my family,” he says. “She successfully went through all the obstacles first. EIP and my sister cleared the path for me.”

Mohammed Rahman moved from Bangladesh to the United States in 1997. He attended Williamsburg Middle School and Yorktown High School—both in Arlington. Rahman joined the Early Identification Program as an eighth grader, and continued through his Mason graduation in 2012. He began mentoring high school freshmen in the Summer Academy in 2011. He followed the same group in 2012 as sophomores, and last summer, as juniors. “This year, I fought for them,” says Rahman of his request to continue with the same group. “I’ve seen them grow up. They know me.”

Rahman says mentors teach the high school students how to help themselves. “I tell them, ‘Let’s work through it together’ to develop study habits, strategies, communication and confidence.”

Rahman, who majored in anthropology and religion with a minor in art/audio visual technology, is now working on a Mason graduate degree in anthropology. Eventually he hopes to earn licensure and teach high school, then earn a PhD and become a university professor. “I would not be hoping to go into the education field if it hadn’t been for EIP,” he says.

Whether he’s advising his sister, Umma Kulsum, a rising high school junior who’s been in Mason’s Early Identification Program since eighth grade, or supporting other mentors, Rahman says, “A sense of family and service always stays with those in EIP. No matter how far we go, we always come back to help.”

That holds true for Jhessyka Vargas, who joined the Early Identification Program as an eighth-grader at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church, then continued through graduation from Falls Church High School and acceptance to Mason. She will earn her bachelor’s degree in social work with a minor in women and gender studies in 2015.

This is her third summer as a mentor in the Summer Academy. She’s helped with subjects including  math, science and social sciences. Her brother, Dennis, graduated from high school in 2013. He will be mentoring high school freshmen this summer in the academy before joining the Air Force in August.

“It’s really rewarding,” says Jhessyka, who finds mentorship isn’t confined to the classroom. “I see some of the first high school students I helped now walking around campus as Mason students. I’m a familiar face to them; I talk to them about making friends, attending events, using resources. I point them in the right direction. It’s nice to see they’ve grown so much through the years.”

Write to Sudha Kamath at

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