George Mason University


News at Mason

Mason student gets 'Good Morning America' spotlight

September 13, 2019   /   by Damian Cristodero

Karen Escobar took a seat in Fenwick Library on George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus, cracked open a book and powered up her laptop.

But the junior criminology, law and society major was not there just to study, she also was being videotaped by a crew from ABC’s “Good Morning America,” which is producing a segment on Generation Hope, a local nonprofit that provides financial aid and mentoring to help teen parents become college graduates and help children enter kindergarten at higher levels of readiness.

Escobar, 21, who has aspirations of being a lawyer, and studies while caring for her 4-year-old daughter and working full-time as an administrative assistant, is an integral part of the story that aired Monday.

“I have everything written down,” Escobar said of her schedule that also includes driving her grandmother to dialysis treatments four days a week. “Time management is very important to me.”

So is her relationship with Generation Hope, which was started by Mason alumna Nicole Lynn Lewis, MPP Public Policy ’06, who herself was a single mother putting herself through school.

Generation Hope, which Lewis established in 2010, provides students who were teen parents with tuition assistance, case management and early childhood support for their children, ages 1 to 5.

The organization, which matches students with mentors through an application process, said it is currently helping 10 Mason students.

“I think it would have been a lot harder for me and taken me a lot longer for me to get to the point I’m at now [without Generation Hope],” said Escobar, a first-generation student and transfer from Northern Virginia Community College. “I have my family to support me, of course. But Generation Hope said, ‘Here’s the plan, here are the resources you have access to.’ At the end of the day, it’s still really hard, but they make this all a lot easier.”

Jeannie Brown Leonard, dean of student academic affairs at Mason, said the university hopes to partner further with Generation Hope, but it also is working hard to expand Mason’s support for students who are student parents. The university estimates there are about 1,000 currently enrolled.

“This is a population we recognize and want to pay attention to,” she said.

Toward that end, Mason's New Students and Family Programs Office offers a resource website (developed by Jennifer Pocai, MAIS Interdisciplinary Studies ’19) that is devoted to students who are student parents or expecting children. Additionally, a student-parent working group meets to discuss issues and priorities facing that group.

“Everything we’ve done, big or small, in our initiatives has been focused on how to make Mason an environment for [student parents], so they really feel like they are part of this campus and belong here,” said Emilie Dubert, director of Contemporary Student Services.

The problem, said Escobar, who lives with her parents in Woodbridge, Virginia, is finding time to be more involved on campus.

Up at 4:50 a.m., she drops off her daughter at her Head Start class, drives her grandmother to dialysis, goes to her job and attends classes that might not end until 10 p.m.

“I’m literally on the clock all the time,” she said.

It is a whirlwind that Escobar said is motivating her to go into social work or to work for a nonprofit “where I can use my knowledge to help people access resources they don’t know about and paving the way for them.”

That commitment to parenting and education made her a natural for the “Good Morning America” spot. See the segment here.

“She’s really wonderful,” Lewis said. “She is a great example of resilience and determination of all our scholars. She’s has the challenges of being a young parent and working while going to school, and none of that is easy. Yet she has persevered toward her degree and has stayed focused with such a great attitude and a bright smile. It’s a pleasure to work with her and support her.”