When the Georgetown Scholarship Program was founded 10 years ago, GSP Program Director Melissa “Missy” Foy said she could not have anticipated the impact it would have on first-generation and low-income students from around the country who apply to Georgetown every year.
At the time of its founding, GSP was working out of the Undergraduate Admissions Office in White-Gravenor Hall and Foy was volunteering her time to help organize the program, of which program offerings were limited, according to Foy.
“The programming elements that you see today are very different than they were back in 2005 when we gave students pizza on paper plates that said, ‘Have Fun at Georgetown!’” Foy said.
What began as a fundraising project for increasing scholarship money has evolved into a national model for how top-tier universities connect to historically disadvantaged students, facilitate their admittance to top schools and provide the means for them to graduate.
The First 50
GSP was founded in 2004 through the partnership of Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Charles Deacon (CAS ’64, GRD ’69) and Dean of Student Financial Services Patricia McWade as an organization dedicated to raising scholarship money to reduce loans in financial aid packages and redirect them toward low-income students.
“Very quickly, [Foy] identified that students had a lot more needs than simply getting in and getting a scholarship,” Deacon said. “Students from first-gen background don’t really have the support at home in the same way as other classmates do, whether that be financial or just the understanding of what going to college really means.”
Foy realized the need for GSP to grow beyond a scholarship fundraising organization after an encounter with Amy Hang (COL ’09), a GSP student.
“At one event in the spring we did phone calling from current GSPers to newly-admitted GSP students and one of the students found me. She said, ‘Thanks so much for the money, but I almost drowned here. It was a very difficult adjustment. I really don’t feel like there are a ton of first-generation students and I feel like I’m the only one like me at Georgetown, and it would be really nice if we could do something around this program so it is more than scholarship,’” Foy said.
Hang suggested GSP develop a peer mentorship program and create a student board, as well as a weekly email to inform students about different opportunities on campus. Additionally, rival schools were offering fewer loans in their financial aid awards and filling financial needs with scholarships. Georgetown needed to keep up.
Foy, Deacon and McWade began increasing their fundraising efforts to raise more scholarship money and establish a network of alumni to contribute five-year pledges through the Alumni Admissions Program. Eventually, the Office of Advancement added the GSP fundraising efforts to their “1789 Scholarship Imperative” and raised $500 million in scholarships.
A Growing Scholarship Program
Slowly, the program hired more full-time employees, adding Associate Director and Assistant Director positions and moved to the basement of Healy Hall, where it currently shares space with the Student Financial Services offices. Foy and Deacon began to develop new programming and craft new projects to help GSP students feel comfortable at Georgetown.
From 2005 to 2008, GSP grew from 50 to 200 students and needed full-time management.
“That’s when Dean Deacon went to the Provost’s office and said he needed to make this a full-time position. There was some talk about making it a position out of the advancement office,” Foy said. “But he said no, that it is important to put a stake on the main campus. This is a student-focused program. The person needs to be here, interacting with students if we want this to be successful.”
Deacon and Foy began developing smaller projects and bringing in alumni to provide assistance. One example of such assistance occurred during Thanksgiving, when many students from California or Texas could not afford to go home, the dining halls were closed and alumni offered to host dinners.
Over time, other programs began to sprout, including partnerships with Jos. A. Bank and Ann Taylor LOFT to provide GSP students with professional attire for internship and job interviews as well as graduation ceremony attire.
To and Through
The GSP now includes 640 current students as well as 606 graduates. The majority of GSP programming is covered and sustained by private philanthropy, including employee wages, events and other budgetary necessities.
Yet without a long-term plan, the vast majority of GSP programs are vulnerable to budget cuts, since most donations are temporary and depend on alumni giving each year. Among the programs sustained by donations is GSP’s winter housing initiative, which finances housing for students who are unable to return to their homes during the semester break.
“When students are forced out of their dorms, we rent an Airbnb home. This year we partnered with the [Students of Georgetown Inc.] Philanthropy and a couple different campus organizations to fund that,” Foy said.
Such philanthropy also funds extra flights home for freshmen, emergency funding to cover medical bills, grocery grants when the dining hall is closed, winter coats and a senior graduation grant to offset the cost of a cap and gown. For GSP, they are constantly tied to donations, the goodwill of others and the support of the university.
“To keep the lights on in this office, for this program, we depend on philanthropy,” Foy said. “Our board recognized that financial resources at the university are really strapped, and we’re really lucky that Georgetown’s current leadership is so supportive of our program. To have one employee in my position at a top 30 university is trailblazing. To have three, that’s like an outstanding show of support from the university.”
Ensuring GSP for Future Generations
Though still heavily reliant on donations, GSP is taking the next step in securing resources for first-generation and low-income students by seeking to establish a $25 million endowment to fund the program in perpetuity.
Currently, the GSP Fundraising Committee, headed by Lisa Gentil and Paul Goodrich (COL ’65), has secured about $9 million in donations and pledges. A $25 million endowment would yield $1.25 million a year, which would cover a dramatic increase in the GUSA Summer Fellows Program, which helps financial aid students cover student housing costs during summer internships, provide more money for graduation-related expenses, and cover the GSP Necessity Fund while allowing more money for students’ professional development opportunities and expanded funding for enrichment events.
Goodrich said such an endowment would secure GSP’s sustainability for future generations and continue to support every GSP student’s needs.
“We want to endow the cost of sustaining the GSP administrative team and the critical Necessity Fund and all the items we assist GSP students in purchasing that might not be in their budgets for obvious reasons,” Goodrich said.
As progress continues, Goodrich hopes to follow the structure of the Alumni Admissions Program, which is now 6,500 members large and retains its members each year, in order to attain further funding.
“We discovered that by letting the prospective donors know exactly what we are doing and getting to know the students, and inviting donors to participate in meetings with the students, that rather than a 20 percent retention rate with donors, we were in the 80s. That indicated that we had a fundraising model that would work,” Goodrich said.
A Reason to Give
For Foy, the GSP sees great success in its graduation rate. Ninety-seven percent of GSP students graduate from Georgetown in four years, compared with the general 91 percent graduation rate in four years for all students. Currently, GSP has graduated 606 students and supports 625 students on campus.
“GSPers graduate at a higher rate than your typical Georgetown student, which is amazing, not to mention significantly higher than first-gen or low-income students nationally where the range is between nine and 33 percent. If you are first-generation or low-income, the chances that you will ever get a college degree is only nine percent,” Foy said.
GSP Student Board President Josi Sinagoga (SFS ’16) said Georgetown’s commitment to GSP — especially given its relatively small endowment — is praiseworthy and necessary for the program to continue impacting the lives of its students.
“GSP focuses on providing support to not just getting students to college, but through it as well. It’s truly incredible that GSP has become the incredible program it is today considering the fact that we don’t have an endowment,” Sinagoga said. “As we compete for the brightest students with institutions such as Harvard, which could feasibly go tuition-free due to its endowment, the sustainability of Georgetown’s place as a top institution is infinitely more secure with an endowment supporting GSP, the keystone of its scholarship.”
Former GSP Strategic Partnerships and Advocacy Co-Chair and current Georgetown University Student Association Vice President Chris Fisk (COL ’17) said GSP plays an integral role in the Georgetown community.
“In creating GSP, Georgetown has committed not just to making sure that the most talented students, regardless of their backgrounds, can come to the Hilltop, but also that they are provided with a dedicated community of support to allow them to really thrive and excel here,” Fisk said. “Endowing GSP assures the permanency of this commitment and recognizes that this program provides our university community with some of its most integral members.”
Within GSP, there are hopes that with a safe endowment, GSP can grow and develop new ways to reach out to students as well as provide for their needs. Deacon pointed toward the possibility of a GSP house to house the GSP office while potentially providing housing for GSP students.
“In my own mind, if we have a Casa Latina, why not have a GSP house? So that there would be space for staff, space for events, maybe even a couple of people who could live there. Space is one thing,” Deacon said. “When you do what you can together, we can make a difference.”
As GSP leadership continues its efforts to develop an endowment, Foy said she constantly appreciates the generosity and philanthropy of past alumni. She attributed their influence and support to the overall success of so many initiatives and programs embraced by the GSP and its participants.
“These donors are good Samaritans, many of them caring about the well-being of students they’ve never even met,” Foy said. “Their generosity has already been a game-changer for hundreds of students by alleviating some of the enormous financial burden they carry, be it groceries for freshmen when the cafeteria is closed, a winter coat or a suit to feel totally confident when walking into an interview.”
As Sinagoga approaches the end of her tenure as board president, she said she is looking forward to the moment when it is time for her to give a donation to GSP. Sinagoga expects the moment to reflect much more than a simple donation to one community group.
“Over the past four years, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing GSP grow in amazing ways, and I know that an endowment would ensure that continued success,” Sinagoga said. “When Georgetown calls me for a donation, I’ll be allocating my gift to the endowment for GSP.”