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Howard Community College Student Israah Ansari Wins Nationally Competitive Transfer Scholarship

COLUMBIA, MD – Howard Community College student Israah Ansari has been selected to receive the highly competitive Cooke Transfer Scholarship by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

The 60 winners receive up to $55,000 per year to complete their bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution. More than 1,700 applicants at 215 community colleges across the nation vied for the award, which includes advising, networking, and opportunities for internships, study abroad, and graduate school funding.

Israah was not a leader or honor student at her college prep Islamic school in Prince George's County. She hardly participated in extracurricular activities or applied herself academically. She often considered herself “less than” and foresaw little change as she enrolled in Howard Community College (HCC) in 2021.

“My grades weren’t the best; my mental health wasn’t the best; my social life wasn’t the best,” she says. “I felt like I was always going to be a problem. A lot of my classmates and teachers deemed me as lazy.”

She’s come far since high school. But despite now shining in the classroom and on campus – she’s president of the Student Government Association and will deliver the student address during commencement – she has needed the occasional reminder that she’s more than enough.

“Even after all the things she's done here, she’ll be like, ‘I could’ve done this better,” says Brandon L. Bellamy, Associate Director, Learning Assistance Center & Completion Services. “I’d say, ‘No, the fact that you did it is a big deal.’ She actually put together the college’s first Homecoming and the first celebration of Iftar, when Muslims break their fast during Ramadan. She has really made a point to ensure that all of her identities as a Black woman and Muslim woman are front and center.”

The shift started toward the end of high school, when a friend encouraged Israah to apply at HCC. “I knew nothing about the school,” she says. “My friend walked me through the application process on the phone and we were giggling the whole time.” Israah decided to use HCC as a fresh start, an “opportunity to rebrand and recreate myself academically, personally, and professionally,” she says.

“And I did just that.”

In spring 2022, she exchanged ideas with Dr. Daria J. Willis, the newly installed president of HCC, who suggested Israah should run for SGA president. Friends and professors also coaxed her to seek office, giving Israah the courage and confidence to step forward. “All it really takes is one or two people believing in you,” she says. “I had that with Dr. Willis and with my best friend (SGA Vice-President) Jackson French. From there, I kind of made it my own thing and I saw what they saw in me.”

Majoring in general studies and social sciences at HCC, with a focus in psychology and business administration, Israah has received a full ride at the University of Maryland College Park, via its Frederick Douglas Transfer Academic Excellence Scholarship. But she’s undecided and says each of the 10 schools where she’s applied is her “first choice.” She eventually wants to work in higher education and help students achieve success that’s beyond their belief.

“It's about their lives beyond the classroom, because that is ultimately what impacts them inside the classroom,” she says. “It’s about resources to provide for mental health and sexual health and even food insecurity. For a long time, I was embarrassed to speak up. But at some point, you have to realize that the problems are bigger than you. So when you do speak of them, you advocate.”

Israah Ansari sees herself clearly now.

For more information about the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, please visit them at

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