Mason’s ADVANCE program celebrates first graduates

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George Mason University’s ADVANCE program, which partners with Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) to help students earn four-year degrees at Mason, is celebrating its first four graduates next week.

The ADVANCE graduates are Amir Bhatti, Rocio Cornero, Erica Koprowski and David Kowalewski.

“I am very proud of these graduates,” said Ashlie Prioleau, executive director of the ADVANCE program. “They thought strategically about their education and how to achieve a Mason degree while spending less money for it. They are dedicated to their education, intelligent, determined. To achieve this important milestone in a pandemic means these students are tenacious.”

Rocio Cornero
Rocio Cornero. Photo provided.

Cornero, 31, transferred from NOVA to Mason in 2019, and is graduating with a degree in chemistry. A native of Argentina, Cornero started studying chemistry at a local university, before moved to the United States four years ago. She said her experiences at both NOVA and Mason have been “great.”

“I have felt so comfortable at both NOVA and Mason because there are so many people from so many different places, and we all get a chance to discuss our different cultures in very immigrant-friendly environments,” said Cornero.

The ADVANCE program was created in 2018 to help streamline the educational path of community college students wishing to attend a four-year institution. More than 1,800 students participate in the program.

Students who are accepted into the program are assigned success coaches who help guide them as to which classes they need to take to get credit from Mason, so they don’t waste money taking classes that don’t help them achieve their four-year degree. The success coaches stay with them throughout their time at both schools.

“Research has found that students in community colleges weren’t going on to four-year colleges because they lacked resources. One problem was that they were spending money for classes that didn’t transfer to four-year institutions,” said Prioleau. “The program was designed to mitigate these types of barriers and create a streamlined admissions process.”

Erica Koprowski
Erica Koprowski. Photo provided.

Students who participate in the ADVANCE program also get access the Mason’s health insurance benefit and receive identification cards that allow them to be use Mason’s resources, such as its libraries and recreational facilities. Once they have earned their associate’s degree, students in the program can transfer to Mason without having to pay an application fee. To transfer, they must have maintained at least a 2.5 grade point average. Students with a 2.85 grade point average are eligible for a general education waiver.

Koprowski, 32, moved to Virginia with her husband, then started at NOVA in 2018, after having taken some community college classes in New Jersey. She has been working full-time as a human resources administrator while finishing up her classes at Mason. Koprowski said that her ADVANCE counselor helped her with the transition from NOVA  to Mason.

“I felt much more comfortable with the transition because I knew she had my back,” said Koprowski, who is graduating with a BS in business with a management concentration. “There are no words to describe how excited I am to be graduating. I am feeling very accomplished.”

Cornero has been doing research on honey bee colonies since she first arrived at Mason for the Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program. She’s planning on pursuing a PhD in bioscience.

“The ADVANCE program helped me so much to get to where I am today,” said Cornero. “I am the first person in my family to get a college degree, so even though it has taken a long time, I am very proud. It’s been very important to me.”