Carlson Teboh (COL ’14) sits in the back of Saxbys, books piled high on the table.
There is a hint of a Cameroonian accent in his voice, the remnants of the 13 years that Teboh spent in the West African country before his family immigrated to the United States.
Unlike many of his classmates, Teboh hails from a low-income family background. In Cameroon, his father had been a doctor, and the family had been “fairly well off,” he explains. In the U.S., though, his father couldn’t continue his practice, so the family income dropped and paying for college became a formidable challenge.
Now in his second semester on the Hilltop, Teboh says that he owes his ability to take his place in the Class of 2014 to the Georgetown Scholarship Program, a university initiative that has provided him with a generous annual scholarship as well as the guidance he needs to explore his career options and navigate his classes.
“If it weren’t for the GSP, I wouldn’t be here,” he says. “They’re really about trying to help us out. They know the pressures that people on financial aid have with so many affluent students at Georgetown.”
GSP was founded in 2004 with the intention of bringing students who otherwise could not afford the university tuition and costs. At first a bare-bones project, the program has grown since its inception. This year, 150 GSP scholars joined the ranks of the Class of 2014 — an all-time high.
The initiative is now funded by the 1789 Scholarship Fund, which was established in 2009 with the goal of providing 1,789 scholarships of $25,000 each by 2014 while raising $500 million in funds. This push has helped GSP expand, providing a level of support to the recipients that sets the program apart.
For Teboh, the expansion helped make his dreams of coming to the Hilltop a reality.
“I really like it here,” Teboh says between bites of his frozen yogurt. “I feel like the Georgetown community is very accepting.”
GSP Director Missy Foy (COL ’03) can still recall the group’s modest beginnings: a small class of recipients with only a handful of activities. Foy was working in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at the time, and she remembers ushering the first class onto campus in August 2005.
“We handed them pizza and said, ‘Congratulations and good luck. We know you have significant financial need, and we got you here with your financial aid package,'” she recalls. “I look back on this and think ‘Where was my heart and soul? Why didn’t I think that these kids might need a little extra?'”
It wasn’t until the following year that Foy realized how much difference the program could make for students on financial aid. In April 2006, GSP student Amy Hang (COL ’09) approached Foy and explained how difficult her first year had been in the new and foreign social environment. She suggested that the GSP develop an office to help the students with more than just their financial needs.
“That’s like the basis of everything we do, which is thinking about Amy and what she wanted this program to do,” Foy says.
Just five years later, the GSP has become its own office, replete with a corps of donors who give time and money lavishly and regularly. Foy and Assistant Director Christine Pfeil (COL ’10) spend their days coordinating donation projects and matching students with alumni advisers who can provide guidance and aid in unique ways.
For Teboh, that has meant a new jacket, textbooks and even a free dental exam. He has also been paired up with doctors who have taken him out to dinner to discuss his interest in pre-medical studies, which he says has given him a whole new perspective on the field.
In the GSP, that kind of help is not out of the ordinary. Donors have contributed gift cards for suits, treats for Christmas and even dinners for students who can’t afford to head home over holiday breaks. This year, one donor funded a slew of activities for students who stayed on campus for spring break including tickets to see “Shear Madness” at the Kennedy Center, meals at Ben’s Chili Bowl and tickets to see “The Fighter” at the West End Cinema.
“The donors really want to get to know the students,” Foy explains. “They want to see where their money is going.”
Susan Gilbert (SFS ’78) is just one example of the devoted alumni base that makes up the GSP battery. Gilbert, who has a son at Georgetown as well, has taken three students under her wing as an adviser. She even drove down from her home in Connecticut to pick up students at the airport on move-in day. She says that her involvement has been spurred on by her desire to expose GSP scholars to the wide range of career options that they may not even realize are open to them.
“If you’re coming from a socioeconomic background that isn’t as advantaged, you are suffering from a lack of exposure to your opportunities,” she explained. “Some of these kids don’t have the background to give them that.”
Many of the GSP scholars, like Rachel Clune (COL ’11), are first-generation college students. Back at home in Dayton, Ohio, Clune’s father works as a salesman in heating and air conditioning, and her mother is a customer service representative. Clune, however, is planning to attend law school at either, she hopes, Georgetown or the University of Notre Dame. With career advice through the GSP, she has mapped out a path several years in advance.
Clune plans to begin giving back to the GSP as soon as she can.
“In the next five years, we aren’t going to be able to give back, but that’s something we are looking forward to doing,” she says.
Former GSP students already give back at a higher percentage than their peers both financially and as advisers, citing the influence of the donors that they encountered while undergraduates.
“It’s nice to know that someone didn’t just write a check,” Clune adds. “They care a lot about us, too.”
Back in Foy’s office, it is obvious that she and Pfeil relish their work. With brilliant smiles, they recount all the letters and emails that they have received from grateful parents, though both of them agree that the donors and students really deserve the credit.
Gilbert sees a different side of the story.
“Christine and Missy are doing an amazing job,” she says. “They are always forward-thinking and always developing the program for the students.”
As the program continues to advance, so does the love that Foy and Pfeil share for their jobs. Commenting on how instrumental the students are to what they do, Foy pauses to admire the university’s swelling support of the GSP and to marvel at the effects of her work.
“How great that the university is willing to pay our salaries to be here to help,” Foy says, looking over to Pfeil. “We feel really lucky and blessed to know the students.”