​​George Mason University’s First-Gen+ Center Receives Research Grant From The American Talent Initiative​

Studdents at The American Talent Initiative

Fairfax. VA— ​November 16, 2022​ – George Mason’s First Gen+ Center, a department within the division of University Life, has recently received a grant from The American Talent Initiative (ATI) for research regarding the effectiveness of resources provided to first-generation college students through a summer bridge program. The grant application was a result of a collaboration with the First-Gen+ Center’s Director, Dr. Amber Holton-Thomas and Dr. Graziella Pagliarulo McCarron, Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies in the School of Integrative Studies, the current University Life Faculty Fellow in the First-Gen+ Center.

 History of the ATI 

The American Talent Initiative is a collaboration between Ithaka S+R, the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, and a collection of 341 universities. This organization aims to assist high-achieving students from low and moderate-income backgrounds in achieving a college education. The organization’s current goal is to help 50,000 high-achieving, lower-income college students graduate from associated universities by 2025.

About the First Gen+ Center and the Student Transition Empowerment Program (STEP) 

The First-Gen+ Center was announced as a new department within University Life in June 2021. Its mission is to support students who are historically underrepresented in higher education and their allies while specifically centering college students who identify as first-generation, who are undocumented, have refugee status, and those who have families with limited income.

The Student Transition Empowerment Program (STEP) is a program is one of many initiatives in the office but has a longstanding recruitment and retention history at Mason. STEP began in 1990 and continues to aid and retain first-generation college students through providing peer mentorship, workshops, and community building. The program also has a multi-year focus, meaning that students complete a 6-week summer program prior to their first fall semester and continue to receive support and mentorship through graduation and beyond. Lex Lewis-Semien, Assistant Director in the First-Gen+ Center coordinates the summer and multi-year curriculum and programmatic elements.

 Details of the Study 

This study explores the intersection of first-generation college student (FGCS) identity and summer bridge program experiences with the aim of creating scholarly and practical deliverables that support best practices in summer bridge programming. The mixed methods study will examine trends and Mason STEP Scholar experiences from 2019 to present and will also include the contributions of Mason STEP alumni and faculty/staff partners who have supported the STEP program.  This collaborative project is a wonderful example of an university life-faculty partnership in service to first-generation college student support.


For further information, please contact:

Dr. Holton-Thomas (ahampto@gmu.edu) or Dr. Graziella Pagliarulo McCarron (gmccarro@gmu.edu)

Posted in Uncategorized.