First-generation student seizes her opportunity

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When Jasmeen Linares thinks about attending George Mason University, her first thought is always, “I’m very lucky to have this opportunity.”

young woman sitting with laptop
Jasmeen Linares. Photo by Cristian Torres/Strategic Communications

Linares, a first-generation student, said her father worked construction before going to school as a boy in his native Argentina. Her mother helped her family in Bolivia sell food and homemade goods during the day before attending school at night.

“Her school was very far from her house, so at night she would walk home,” Linares said. “She would tell me she was scared, but she wanted to learn. She was passionate about that.”

That passion is securely instilled in Linares, a freshman computer science major from Annandale, Virginia, who is a member of Mason’s Honors College and a University Scholar, meaning her tuition is covered.

“I think it’s the right choice,” Linares said of attending Mason, despite an offer from another state university. “Mason is pretty diverse and that’s welcoming to me.”

Linares’ introduction to Mason began when she enrolled in Mason’s Early Identification Program (EIP). The program, which provides access to educational resources for middle and high school students who will be first in their families to attend college or university, has graduated more than 2,100 students since its inception in 1987.

Mason has become a destination for first-generation students, with 24% of undergraduates identifying as such.

For Khaseem Davis, EIP’s director, Linares’ path aligns perfectly with Mason’s core values of diversity, inclusivity and grit. And while talent is equally distributed among people, opportunity isn’t, with a Mason education being a great equalizer.

“Jasmeen is a bright student,” Davis said. “From our interactions, it was apparent that she was very self-aware and highly inquisitive. As an EIP student, Jasmeen’s standard was excellence, and I believe her desire to excel will contribute to her success at Mason and beyond.”

Linares, whose brother is a junior majoring in mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, began coding while in high school. And while she said it is interesting, she also finds it soothing in the same way as drawing.

The two skills had a synergy for Linares, who said she often incorporates something she draws into an app she is coding.

“I feel the creativity in both,” Linares said, “and being creative eases my mind.”

Linares does have a lot on her mind.

Her Honors College research project is examining how food advertisements on television contribute to high obesity rates among Latino children. One study she and her research group are using as a reference found that ads aimed at Spanish-speaking children showcased more fast food and non-nutritional foods than those on programs for English-speaking children.

Linares said she feels pressure to succeed as a first-generation student. But there is also plenty of encouragement from her parents.

“They’re proud of the direction my brother and me want to go,” Linares said. “They’re always trying to encourage us and say, ‘You have this opportunity. Take it and do what you want.’ ”