Women’s History Month Spotlight: Hannah Choi, a First-Generation ADVANCE Alumna 

March 1, 2024

Hannah Choi, a NOVA alum and current student at George Mason University, was inspired to work with students with disabilities because of her passion for advancing postsecondary educational opportunities. She graduated from the ADVANCE program, a transfer partnership between NOVA and GMU. In the following discussion, Hannah shares insights into the program and discusses how she is well on her way to achieving her career goals.

image of hannah choi

Tell us a little bit about yourself. 
I am a first-generation college student. When it came to the college application process and financial aid, my parents couldn’t provide much assistance. Opting for NOVA was the best choice for me. 

Initially, I felt hesitant and lost, lacking the guidance that a more experienced sibling might have offered. Without someone to hold my hand through the process, NOVA became a safer and more secure starting point for me. 

Tell us about your experience at NOVA (i.e., professors you liked and friends you met).    
Initially, I was interested in criminal studies, but after taking a psychology class, I developed a genuine fascination with understanding the developmental processes of the human brain. At NOVA, I had an exceptional professor, Sarah Gunnarson, who was not only kind but also highly motivated and passionate about teaching psychology. 

Fortunately, NOVA provided me with substantial financial aid, enabling me to afford all of my classes without having to rely heavily on loans. Even to this day, I am grateful for the financial support I received through aid, scholarships and other means, allowing me to pursue my education without the burden of loans. 

Tell us your thoughts on the ADVANCE program. 
As an ADVANCE student, I didn’t have the fear of my credits not transferring, which alleviated stress for me and my family. They didn’t necessarily have to guide me in what I needed to study; the ADVANCE program provided me with numerous success coaches, offering a great wraparound model for support. 

How are things going at George Mason University? 
In starting at GMU, I discovered a job opportunity working with students with disabilities. Despite my initial interest in developmental psychology, exploring learning and working styles intrigued me and motivated me to pursue a master’s in special education and disability research. 

Throughout my master’s degree, the idea of pursuing a Ph.D. has become increasingly interesting to me. I find joy in ensuring I am helping students and making a positive impact in their lives. My goal is to ensure my students are well-prepared for success and feel a sense of belonging. 

Currently, I am part of a research team focusing on scam detection using eye-tracking movement. This research is particularly geared toward aiding individuals with ADHD and those on the autism spectrum. Our interdisciplinary team includes engineering, computing, linguistics, psychology and special education, and we investigate the correlation between scams and fraud in higher education, especially how it affects those with disabilities. 

In addition to my research, I work with the Mason Life program as an academic liaison. I began as support staff, attending classes with students and helping them with their assignments, and now I’ve transitioned into a support instructor role. In this capacity, I engage in lesson planning and syllabus creation, and I’ve discovered my passion for teaching! The creativity and flexibility inherent in teaching, coupled with the interactive learning environment, resonate with my hands-on approach. As a liaison, I oversee our instructors, with a coordinator assisting me with administrative work. 

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA? 
I would advise them to be willing to take initiative and reach out to ask questions for support. I personally struggled with this initially; feeling lost at the start, I learned that asking someone is better than asking no one. 

Taking charge of your education is crucial. Additionally, I would encourage them to actively pursue the college experience. Participate in social events, clubs, honor societies and leadership events. 

For my ADVANCE peers, I would emphasize the importance of continuing to practice relationship building, as it can open doors to finding career opportunities and discovering new interests. 

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