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After 30 Years, EIP’s Family Spirit Keeps Growing

It started with an idea to help first-generation middle-school and high-school students prepare to attend college. But the Early Identification Program (EIP) has accomplished something more—building a family of students, staff, and supporters that thrives across and beyond George Mason’s halls.

“EIP changed the game for me,” said Loree Williams, BA Integrative Studies ’07. Williams, now a Prince William County School Board member, told students at EIP’s Summer Academy that “I am a strong believer in the fact that I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for EIP.”

Williams is just one of 1,800 students who have graduated from EIP since 1987. Serving some 600 youth in 2018 alone, EIP now comprises a suite of programs, including weekly mentoring and tutoring, family seminars to encourage parental involvement, a Summer Academy where students experience classes on a college campus, and a graduation ceremony for the outgoing high school seniors.

It’s these endeavors to change lives that attracts donors such as Jim and Gigi Green, BIS ’00, MA Telecommunications ’09, long-time supporters who established the Boydie Logan Memorial Scholarship to support EIP graduates at Mason.

“My interest was in helping underprovided kids—kids who would be the first in their family to attend college, because I was the first in my family to go,” said Jim Green.

He is one of the key organizers of the Diversity Golf Classic, held each June, which has raised about $650,000 over the past 23 years for EIP and the Student Transition Empowerment Program, with 218 scholarships awarded to first-generation students.

“I’m energized by a couple of things—meeting the kids and their families, and seeing them have such an interest in acquiring an education,” said Jim. “It shows how with just a little bit of support from the community, students who probably would not have achieved college degrees, all suddenly can do that.”

Gigi Green was also the first in her family to graduate from college. One of eight children, she saw the struggles her siblings went through, often financial, and knew she had to give back.

“Most of the other departments and schools within Mason have a strong alumni presence. EIP is so unique because it takes individuals from all these different areas,” said Gigi. “Yet the EIP students have a real closeness and a real bond that I like to support.”

Time and again, that’s the story people see in the program: a spirit where people graduate from EIP, only to return and give back.

Maktaru Jollah, a 2013 EIP graduate, returned to Mason’s campus to serve as an emcee for the incoming student reception and graduation ceremony in May. It is the program’s staff that resonates with him, even today.

“Whenever I get around Rhina [Alvarado, EIP Associate Director] that’s when I see EIP at its purest form. You get a good sense of the drive, the commitment, the joy, and the pride to be in EIP,” said Jollah. “And Khaseem [Davis, EIP Director] was the first real mentor that I ever had, especially as a male of color. I had never seen a person that looked like me in academia.”

Even wandering the halls of the EIP offices, where six of the seven support staff graduated from the program, it’s hard to not bump into an alumnus such as Amira Dalmazio, BS Biology ’18.

“I came to the United States when I was 10 years old, sixth grade,” said Dalmazio. “Seventh grade is when we first heard about the program. It was starting out in Alexandria city, and that’s when my mom said ‘OK, we’re definitely joining this.’ So we applied for it, and now nine years later we are still a part of it.”

And today, whenever Jim and Gigi Green visit the office or attend EIP events, they can’t help but chat with the students and their parents, check in with staff, and give out warm hugs to the many familiar faces.

“Once you’re a member of the EIP family,” said Jim Green, “you’re a member forever.”

Christopher Bobo / September 4, 2018