Donor-funded scholarships at GW have made a significant impact on generations of GW students. Here are the stories of a few GW alumni who have been able to realize their goals through their hard work at GW and the scholarships they earned.
THEN: The daughter of Liberian immigrants, Theiline Gborkorquellie was born just a year after her parents arrived in Syracuse, N.Y., following her father’s receipt of a full scholarship to SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
“Education was the top priority for my parents and for their children because it was education that brought my family to this country,” she said.
Her mother, a nurse, died when Dr. Gborkorquellie was only 11. The trauma of the event, along with the values of service and care that her mother had instilled in and modeled for her, set her on the path toward a medical career.
“I remember feeling very helpless when it came to a person’s health at that time, and I never wanted to feel that way again,” she said. “So from that day forward, I was determined to become a doctor.” She completed her undergraduate and master’s degrees at Johns Hopkins University, then came to GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences in part because of the institution’s strong record of community engagement. She received the Cecile and Seymour Alpert, M.D., Scholarship and other scholarships to support her education at GW.
“I was very impressed with GW’s strong commitment to the community because I knew that I wanted to be a community pediatrician working with underserved communities,” she said.
At GW, she was active in the student-run clinic and a member of the Student National Medical Association. She earned the Daniel J. Stone Health Services Scholarship, which enabled her to take six weeks abroad as a volunteer medical care provider for children at a special needs school in Cusco, Peru. And she even made time to establish GW’s first medical student a cappella group, “N’Syncope.”
“There were no naps, but it was so much fun,” she said.
NOW: Dr. Gborkorquellie is a pediatrician at Children’s National at THEARC, an all-in-one pediatric health center and community-partnered satellite arm of the Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.
She is passionate about fighting mental health stigma in communities of color, particularly among children, and works to establish resources that help kids in Southeast D.C. and other underserved areas cope with trauma and stress. Her projects also include working toward trauma-informed care in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) and helping primary care pediatricians in community health centers improve the mental health care they are providing to their patients, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for mental health resources and complicated the already-overburdened mental health care delivery infrastructure.
In addition to her practice and her advocacy, Dr. Gborkorquellie is an assistant professor at SMHS.
All these accomplishments are the culmination not only of her dreams, but of her mother’s as well. When Dr. Gborkorquellie was about to enter medical school, her father told her that her mother, while working full time as a nurse, had also been studying toward her goal of becoming a physician—something Dr. Gborkorquellie hadn't known before.
“That was how I really truly knew it was meant to be—that her spirit has always lived on in me pursuing her dream,” Dr. Gborkorquellie said. “So many people have told me such beautiful stories of her and her values and the people she helped along the way. And I am every bit of my mother, because that is what I do too.”
THEN: William Murphy wasn’t always sure he’d go to college at all. His high school teachers thought he’d be better suited to tech studies at a vocational school, and besides, he wasn’t sure his family could afford it. But a cancer research position he secured during the summer after his high school sophomore year changed those aspirations. The doctor he worked with insisted he had the capacity to challenge himself and pursue a college degree. He sought out a university where he could pursue both engineering and cancer research and was drawn to GW, particularly the work of SEAS’ Michael Keidar. And he got in with a significant scholarship.
“I received a SEAS engineering scholarship with my letter, and I remember my mother and I breaking down in tears at the kitchen table, overjoyed at the possibilities,” he said. “But after I ran the numbers, I realized we still wouldn't be able to afford it.” (GW students typically have need gaps of $3,000 to $5,000.)
He wrote to GW explaining the situation and was soon notified that he’d won an additional scholarship from an endowed fund established by GW Board of Trustees Chair Emeritus Nelson A. Carbonell Jr., B.S. ’85.
At GW, Mr. Murphy was able to join Dr. Keidar’s lab as an undergraduate researcher his first year and to work on cancer research every summer. He established relationships with faculty mentors who he said taught him “more than just engineering, but how to think like an engineer.”
The scholarship also gave him the freedom and flexibility to balance a rigorous academic schedule with a healthy social life. “I made great friends and was able to enjoy every moment of my time,” he said.
NOW: After GW, Mr. Murphy found what he describes as his “dream job” at BioMarker Strategies, a start-up biotechnology company working on cancer diagnostics and matching cancer patients with the right therapeutic care. He works as lead engineer on the company’s automated platform.
"I’ve used everything I learned from GW at my job and I still continue to learn more every single day,” he said. “I think back to my high school self, unsure of a clear direction in life and think: ‘You finally made it.’ I then remember all of my mentors and the people who believed in me along the way. I remember the school and the donors who made it possible. And I am forever grateful."
THEN: Moshe Pasternak grew up in a New Jersey town with many advantages, he said, including access to highly-ranked public schools and other systemic resources. But the Pasternaks, like many American families, were hard hit by the financial crash in 2008—hard enough, in fact, that the bank foreclosed on their home.
“At that point, things took a pretty sharp turn south,” he said. “When I was in eighth grade, the money elements sort of became much more part of the conversation.”
His parents still placed a high value on education and were determined that Mr. Pasternak would go to college—it would just take help from outside the family. Because of his passion for activism and politics, Mr. Pasternak considered GW and a few other colleges. Although he was accepted, he says, euphoria didn’t exactly set in. The initial student aid offer was simply insufficient to allow him to attend.
“It didn't actually feel real until I received notice of my Power and Promise scholarship,” he said.
That scholarship not only allowed Mr. Pasternak to come to GW but also gave him the flexibility to pursue his passion outside of classes. He was able to take on unpaid internships, including a semester working for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in Wisconsin.
"I graduated with a full resume and no debt,” he says. “And in conversations that I've had with employers, they’ve been impressed with the depth and breadth of experience I was able to have while I was still in college. That is something that that the scholarship really unlocked."
NOW: Mr. Pasternak has pursued his passion for activism across multiple fields, including work at a healthcare reform nonprofit and service on the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) in Dupont Circle. He now works for a private foundation and is married to a fellow GW student, Margarita Bronshteyn, B.A. ’17, whom he met in a sociology class.
“In addition to my wife, a ton of our friends stayed here in D.C., and we have regular Shabbat dinners and hang out all the time and play softball together, and that network is invaluable,” he says. “In the last year and a half, but also just more generally, having supportive friends is hugely important.”
THEN: High school senior Jasmine Vicencio had no idea she should expect a surprise when she walked into then-GW President Steven Knapp’s office for what she had been told was a final admissions interview in March 2011. But inside the room waited her family and the principal of her high school, primed to inform her that she’d won an SJT Scholarship, a grant that would cover four years of tuition, room and board and all the associated costs of college.
“It was probably one of the top 10 moments of my life— so far,” she said.
For Ms. Vicencio, who had had to put aside her original dream of attending the U.S. Naval Academy due to a heart condition, the scholarship was a game changer.
"My family was not going to be able to take out loans,” she said. “So when I found out about the scholarship and realized I didn’t have to worry about the financial burden, I could focus on my studies and my career instead of trying to juggle that with working multiple part-time jobs. It opened up so many options for me."
NOW: Ms. Vicencio has worked at the World Bank since 2016. She moved to her most recent position in public health research in March 2020, at the moment the COVID-19 pandemic spread to the United States. She says the breadth of the task doesn’t faze her, in part because during her time at GW, she was able to get experience working in high-stakes, multicultural environments, like when she was one of just a few American students researching nuclear physics at Germany’s Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz. Those environments, accessible thanks to the freedom her SJT scholarship afforded her, taught her to communicate and lead in diverse groups.
“When I was in college, I walked past the World Bank all the time,” she said. “So it’s incredible to work at this place that is so familiar geographically but located within an organization that has such broad reach, and to be part of a response, however small, that is obviously affecting everyone in the world.”
THEN: Avonda Fogan has never been one to follow a narrow path. Growing up, her interests included everything from ballet to martial arts to journalism and creative writing. A high school study abroad experience in Honduras sparked an interest in international development. And her selection as an SJT scholar in 2012 meant she had the opportunity to go in any direction she wanted to explore.
“At first, I really didn't understand how impactful the scholarship would be,” she said. “It wasn’t until I actually got to GW that I realized I did not need to worry about money, so I had the privilege to just focus on studying and joining clubs. That really made my experience at GW amazing because I was able to invest most of my time and energy into exploring new opportunities.”
One of those opportunities was learning Mandarin Chinese, an idea that had been in the back of her mind since classes on globalization made it clear how important Chinese relations would be to the United States in the coming decades.
“I thought, ‘What’s the hardest thing I could take at GW that I’m actually interested in?’” she remembered.
It paid off. “The East Asian Languages Department at GW was amazing, all of the teachers I had over that four years,” Ms. Fogan said. “I had the opportunity to study abroad the summer after my sophomore year and the first semester of my junior year in Beijing. And it was all covered by the Stephen Joel Trachtenberg scholarship.”
NOW: Ms. Fogan’s course of study and the relationships she’d established with professors led to an internship and then a research position at a small nonprofit focused on enhancing U.S.-China relations. While she has temporarily pivoted out of that field to work at the KIPP Foundation, she said her long-term goal is “to be a policy leader on the forefront of U.S.-China relations.”
"GW changed my life by investing in me,” she said. “It was affirming when they selected me as an SJT scholar because it meant they saw me as a leader, even if I wouldn’t have called myself that or seen it in myself then. That affirmation put me in a spot where I thought ‘Okay, I can challenge myself. I can step out of my comfort zone.’ And I could try new things, like studying Chinese. I feel like GW equipped me with the tools but also enhanced skills I already had."