While some students spend several hours and hundreds of dollars traveling to visit their families back home, Darryl Robinson (COL ’15) lives only a 10-minute bus ride away.
“It feels like every day, when I get up, I’m not at Georgetown,” Robinson said. “I don’t feel like anything has changed since I’ve lived in my room at home.”
Robinson, who applied to Georgetown as a neurobiology major and hopes to transfer to the School of Nursing and Health Studies, graduated from César Chávez Public Charter High School for Public Policy in Ward 7.
Although Georgetown became his top choice once he had researched his options, Robinson had never even heard of the university before his junior year of high school.
As the D.C. public school system struggles with a graduation rate hovering around 50 percent and massive achievement gaps among students in underserved neighborhoods, attending college is a distant dream for some of its students.
A STUDENT’S PERSPECTIVE
After having friends and teachers encourage him to apply to Georgetown, Robinson attended information sessions offered by the Ward 7 Initiative, a program that links current undergraduate students with prospective students from D.C. high schools.
To his knowledge, Robinson is the first student to be accepted to Georgetown from his high school.
While there are few other students from D.C. in the freshman class, he has enjoyed meeting other locals, including students from the first graduating class of Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School, which focuses on serving low-income students. The school is located in Takoma Park, Md., but affiliated with the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
Jessica Palencia (COL ’15) is one of three Don Bosco alums at Georgetown.
Palencia had grown familiar with the Georgetown campus long before she arrived in the fall through Don Bosco’s Corporate Work Study Program, which helps high school students to gain professional work experience and earn money to pay for a portion of their education. Palencia is now in her fourth year working for the Office of the University President.
Though she initially didn’t want to attend college close to home, Palencia still thinks she’s getting the full college experience.
“I don’t feel like I’m being deprived of anything,” she said. “I’m getting to explore the city and learn things about it that I never knew before, like social justice issues.”
She said she’s thankful to be close to the support systems that she grew up with.
“I think it’s the fact that my school is Cristo Rey that I have so many close relationships and connections.”
Robinson, who tries to see his family about every other week, acknowledged that he sometimes feels slightly too close to home, especially when his two younger sisters pressure him to spend time with them.
“They are always texting me and calling me, trying to go out, trying to make me go back home, [even] when I have to study for a test,” he said.
At times, Robinson feels like he never left home, but in other ways, his life at Georgetown has been a complete change from the environment he was used to.
“I was never in a situation where the majority of people around me cared about going to classes as much as Georgetown students,” he said. “But just to see that everyone has the same mindset, they want to succeed in life and they’re not willing to let things go in the hands of fate, it’s amazing to me.”
STUDENTS REACH OUT
Georgetown students have launched several mentoring and tutoring programs that work with the most underserved communities in D.C., aiming to expose students to college and the importance of higher education.
The Meyers Institute for College Prep, which is run by the university’s Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, works with local middle and high school students to help prepare them for college.
Each Saturday morning, MICP holds classes on Georgetown’s campus for students from a variety of at-risk schools to immerse them in a collegiate atmosphere.
“We bring Georgetown to the community and present it as a rich, vibrant campus that is a home within a home,” Executive Director of the MICP Charlene Brown-McKenzie (COL ’95) said.
Since the MICP was founded in 1989, six of its students have come to Georgetown as undergraduates and successfully graduated within four to five years, according to Brown-McKenzie.
The Georgetown University Math & Science Hands-On Enrichment program, one of several student organizations at work in Wards 7 and 8, stresses the importance of college to its participants.
Angiela Sivakumar (COL ’13), secretary of GUMSHOE, said having members of the university engage with the community makes college seem like a more tangible option.
“Students are able to interact with undergraduates and get a sense of what college is like,” she said.
Strive for College, a national organization that recently launched a chapter at Georgetown, pairs college students with students from disadvantaged high schools to help them navigate the college application process.
“Many low-income students are completely qualified to go to college but don’t have the resources or support to go through the application process,” Brigid McCurdy (COL ’14), director of public relations, marketing and fundraising, wrote in an email.
RECRUITING FROM WITHIN
Through its admissions process, the university has several programs to address the underrepresentation of D.C. residents on campus.
Kamilah Holder is senior assistant director of undergraduate admissions and coordinator of African-American recruitment. She also heads recruitment efforts for D.C. and serves as the first point of contact for local students learning about Georgetown.
“It’s really important that we are representative … of the world, and we wouldn’t be an accurate picture if we did not have students that represented the variety of different backgrounds and perspectives that come with being a native Washingtonian,” Holder said.
Holder said that there is great diversity in the types of students from D.C. due to the District’s diverse array of school systems — public and private, charter and independent. The university has longstanding relationships with some schools in the city and is forming new ties with others.
“John Carroll faces outward to D.C. … Our connection to D.C. and having D.C. students be a part of that community is very important,” she said. “We aren’t Georgetown without D.C.”