Open Doors: Students Reflect on Impact of Generous Alumnae Scholarship Gift

Last academic year, 65 GW students benefited from a $15.8 million gift from the Shepard sisters; an additional $2 million was added in August.

November 14, 2022

3 Shepard Scholars

Bazgha Paracha (l) Maria Martinez and Kaitlynn Slattery.

By Lisa Conley-Kendzior

Kaitlynn Slattery, B.S. ’22, was trying to figure out how to afford her next month’s rent when she learned that she received a scholarship for her final year at the George Washington University.

“I was on the phone with my mom, and we were trying to figure out where the money was going to come from and how we were going to make it work when I got the email about the scholarship,” she said. “It was such a relief that I cried.”

Slattery is one of 65 GW students who in the 2021-22 academic year received a Shepard Scholarship, a need-based undergraduate scholarship established by a more than $15 million gift from the estates of the late Mary Hopkinson Shepard, B.A. ’64, and her twin sister, the late Josephine Ross Shepard, B.A. ’65. 

It was the largest single donation by alumni in the university’s history, and it was recently made larger with an additional disbursement of more than $2 million. With approximately 42 percent of GW’s undergraduate students qualifying for need-based aid, scholarship funding is often the determining factor in pursuing an only-at-GW education.

“It's really encouraging to know that more people are going to have the opportunity I had, because I like to think that the work I'm doing now is going to have an impact,” said Slattery, who’s currently in a post-baccalaureate program at the National Institutes of Health and dreams of becoming a cancer researcher.

“Scholarships like this make a world of difference because there are so many people who can't afford college but have so much to contribute not only to science but to other fields as well,” she added.

Maria Martinez, a junior in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and a first-generation college student from Mexico, is one of those people.

“The scholarship has changed my life,” said Martinez, who after receiving an email about the aid “literally ran” to her parents to tell them the good news.

“Although many students may be fortunate to acquire the resources to attend such a highly accredited institution, others could only dream of such an opportunity,” she said. “Students like me might have come from other countries in search of new beginnings and better futures, and this is their light at the end of the tunnel.”

GW received the majority of the now more than $17 million gift from the estate during the height of the coronavirus pandemic when many students and their families were struggling financially.

Martinez, whose dream is to become an FBI criminal profiler, said the scholarship was a huge relief for her parents after the pandemic had reduced their income.  

“If it were not for the Shepard Scholarship, I would not have been one step closer to achieving my dream,” she said. “This was incredible as I was able to focus solely on my education and not worry about the financial burden it might place on my family and myself.”

Many students face a daunting financial gap that scholarship support alleviates, enabling them to pursue extracurricular activities and internship opportunities, while balancing their studies.  Martinez serves on the Social Media Committee of the Criminal Justice Student Association and during a summer internship with the Houston Police Department, she helped investigators working with a mental health database. 

Bazgha Paracha, a senior in the Elliott School of International Affairs, said the scholarship allowed her to pay for her education without the help of her parents, who had already given up everything when they emigrated to the U.S.

“They had to start from the bottom up, but they knew that the U.S. educational system was going to get us somewhere and hopefully make our lives better,” she said. “It was my father’s dream for us to get a proper education.”

Paracha, who’s currently applying to law schools, said it was a “moment of joy” when she found out she received the Shepard Scholarship because it came at a time when she was unsure if she could afford to stay at GW.

“It was a sigh of relief. Like, ‘OK, this is one less thing for me to worry about with school,’” she said. “This scholarship has allowed me to pursue higher education and fulfill my father’s dream.”

Open Doors: The Centuries Initiative for Scholarships & Fellowships charts a course to increase access to the transformative power of a GW degree. Learn more about how GW is expanding opportunity for the next generation of leaders.