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Apr. 27, 2007

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Program increases college enrollment of first generation college bound students

FAIRFAX, Va., April 27, 2007 – George Mason University’s Early Identification Program (EIP), which has graduated more than 700 first generation college bound eighth to 12th- grade students since its inception in 1987, will celebrate its 20th anniversary on May 15. EIP encourages students to successfully complete a collegiate preparation program in high school and increases the number of students from traditionally underrepresented populations who attend and complete college.

EIP, was the brainchild of E. Wayne Harris, then the Fairfax County Area II superintendent and George Johnson, then George Mason University president, and was launched in response to data showing that minority student enrollment in college was low, partly because the students were not prepared for college. The pilot program, funded by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, was part of a partnership between Mason and the Fairfax County Public Schools. It was Harris who recognized that outreach to these populations needed to begin much earlier.

Through the hard work and dedication of Hortensia Cadenas, who has been the director of EIP for 17 years, the program has expanded from partnering with two Northern Virginia school systems to six: Fairfax, Arlington, Prince William, Falls Church City, Manassas City and Manassas Park. When EIP began in 1987, 48 students were selected to enroll in the free program. This year, 655 students were nominated by high school counselors and teachers and about one-third of those students will be accepted. Limited space prevents the program from being able to accommodate more students. For those who are selected to attend the program, many find that the opportunity comes at just the right time and changes their lives forever.

“Prior to the Early Identification Program, my fingers were mainly used to throw up gang signs, but now they gracefully flow over mathematical equations involved with my graduate research,” said Sarom Sok, a 1998 EIP graduate who is currently pursuing a PhD in computational quantum chemistry at Iowa State University.

Students who are interested in the program must apply during seventh grade and if accepted, begin attending three-week summer academies offered on Mason’s Fairfax and Prince William campuses each year until they graduate from high school. The academies are designed to prepare the students for academic success by previewing the math, English and science requirements they will be expected to master in the upcoming school year. Students who successfully complete the program are guaranteed admission to Mason.

“Every time I take part in an EIP event, I come away more excited about the program,” said university President Alan Merten of the summer academies. “I’m excited about what people are learning, but I’m as excited about what people are becoming as a result of what they’re learning. It is one of the highlights of the year for me.”

Along with preparation for their school work, EIP students also receive SAT preparation assistance, computer technology classes, cultural field trips and ongoing tutoring throughout the year. Once enrolled at Mason, students continue to receive support from the EIP staff. A study lounge with computers is available for graduates of the program 24 hours a day, and Cadenas and her staff are available for additional assistance.

In addition, EIP mentors the students’ families by offering workshops for parents on communications, navigating the financial aid system and college preparation. Many EIP students come from single-parent families, and often there is a language barrier for the parents.

“It is so important for these students to have the support of their families while in the program,” said Cadenas. “I struggled with a language barrier when I arrived in this country 40 years ago, so I know firsthand how important it is to have someone show you the way and walk you through the process. Education can change your life, and that’s what we want to do for these students – change their lives.”

The program has garnered numerous awards and recognition for its efforts over the years, and Cadenas has been invited to the White House twice. The program was also singled out by President Bill Clinton as one of the top 18 programs in the country promoting partnerships between colleges and middle and junior high schools. This May, at commencement, Cadenas will be honored for her dedication and achievements; she will be the first ever active staff member to receive the George Mason Medal, the university’s highest honorary award.

About The Early Identification Program
The Early Identification Program (EIP) is an innovative, multi-year college preparatory program for middle and high school students. Program activities are free and held on the Fairfax and Prince William campuses of George Mason University. The collegiate program increases the number of students from traditionally underrepresented populations who attend and complete college.

About George Mason University
George Mason University is an innovative, entrepreneurial institution with national distinction in a range of academic fields. Enrollment is now nearly 30,000, with students in 173 degree programs at campuses in Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William. This expansion is part of George Mason’s mission to further establish itself as a distributed university in which each of its campuses has a distinctive academic focus that plays a critical role in the economy of its region.