George Mason University

News at Mason

Mason welcomes a new group of first-generation students

October 25, 2018   /   by Mary Lee Clark

Twins Nicole and Nigel Brown came to Mason this year as freshmen as part of STEP. Photo by Lathan Goumas.

Last year, Mason reported that 40 percent of its undergraduates were first-generation students. These numbers are proudly achieved through university initiatives like the Student Transition Empowerment Program (STEP), created to enhance the recruitment, engagement and retention of first-generation college students accepted to Mason.

Twins Nicole and Nigel Brown came to Mason this year as freshmen as part of STEP. As first-generation students, they decided to apply for the program after learning about it on a campus tour. Nicole said STEP helped them get to know the campus before the start of the academic year, which was a big help.​

In the weeks prior to coming to Mason for the fall semester, students accepted into STEP stay on campus for a 5 1/2 week summer residential program. They live in residence halls and get to know the campus inside and out.​

"Everyone developed and bonded with each other in the first two weeks—we became a huge STEP family,” said Nigel. ​

Students who participate in STEP also earn credits toward their degrees before the fall semester begins, said Vanessa Correa, program director for STEP. This past summer, students fulfilled one or more of their Mason Core requirements by taking either COMM 101 Fundamentals of Communication or HIST 100 History of Western Civilization.​

According to Correa, students also form a community of fellow students, faculty and staff who are invested in and supportive of their success. Nicole said it was helpful to get to know campus organizations such as University Life during her summer with STEP. 

The program doesn’t end when the summer ends; students continue to receive support and mentorship throughout their time at Mason. There are currently about 130 STEP participants. ​

STEP is available to all first-time and first-year students in Virginia who have been accepted to Mason as freshmen. After what they described as an easy application process, Nicole is now studying forensics and Nigel is majoring in mechanical engineering.​

“STEP’s success is truly its students—diverse in multiple ways, excelling in their academics and engagement with the Mason community and a true joy to be around,” said Correa. “These students represent the very best of Mason, and it’s an honor to work with this amazing group.”