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HCC Student Awarded Prestigious Community College Transfer Scholarship

Amira Cooper to transfer to UMBC as Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholar
Amira Cooper

COLUMBIA, MD – Howard Community College (HCC) student Amira Cooper heard about the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship two years ago. She learned that alumni of her HCC honors program – the James W. Rouse Scholars – had previously won the prestigious national award.

“My professors and mentors knew how to prepare us and help us apply,” she says. “I wanted to do it.”

On Monday, she was announced as one of 72 recipients of the highly competitive award for community college students to complete their bachelor’s degrees. She plans to attend UMBC and study secondary education. Her scholarship covers up to $40,000 per year for two years.

“We know how much exponentially harder this past year has been on students. It’s an honor to award this group of individuals as they have achieved so much both in the classroom and in their daily lives,” said Seppy Basili, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. “We are proud to welcome this new class of Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholars to our community and are excited to support them as they transition to four-year institutions.”

Today, nearly half of the students pursuing college choose to attend two-year institutions. Research commissioned by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation found that community college students who transfer to selective institutions have equal to or higher graduation rates as students who enrolled directly from high school or transferred from four-year institutions. Yet, at the nation’s top colleges, only five percent have transferred from a community college. The Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship seeks to increase the number of community college students completing their education at top four-year institutions.

Cooper was determined to attend HCC after her graduation from Hammond High School. She ignored naysayers who disparage community colleges. “This was always the plan and my mom agreed with the plan,” she says. “No matter my [other] acceptances, it was always going to be HCC. It seemed like a really welcoming and fun school with a lot of opportunities for students.”

At HCC, she has thrived while coping with lupus, an autoimmune disease. “Sometimes I might get flare-ups, which can stop me from moving a limb or walking,” she says. “It was a challenge when I first got diagnosed in high school, but I’ve gotten the hang of it now.”

For her capstone project as a Rouse Scholar, Amira used embroidery and interviews to explore how racial and ethnic groups are under-represented and misrepresented in popular culture. Matthew J. Van Hoose, Ph.D., HCC executive director of academic engagement, says the capstone was “an exceptionally original approach.

“It was just one of Amira’s many and varied accomplishments at HCC,” says Dr. Van Hoose, who served as Amira’s mentor on the project. “But it captures so much about her: her intellectual curiosity, her creativity, and her earnest desire to push the communities she’s part of to be more equitable and just.”

In addition to financial support, Cooper and the Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholars will receive comprehensive educational advising. Scholars also receive opportunities for internships, study abroad, and graduate school funding, as well as connection to a thriving network of Cooke Scholars and alumni.

To date, over 1,000 students from all over the country have received the Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. Over 1,300 students from 398 community colleges applied for the 2021 Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. The Foundation evaluated each submission based on students’ academic ability and achievement, financial need, persistence, leadership, and service to others.

Cooper is a member of the HCC chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society for community college students. She will graduate summa cum laude from HCC on May 27, 2021, with an associate of arts in general studies.

“This has been a great journey and I’m definitely going to miss it when I transfer,” Amira says. “I’m ready to move on to UMBC, but I wouldn’t trade my experience at HCC for the world.”

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