Amira Cooper thought it would be just another Zoom meeting with her Howard Community College (HCC) disability support counselor on May 6, 2021. But when she jumped on the call, a professor was there, plus a representative from student services.
“I didn’t put two and two together until they told me I won,” she says.
Amira’s prize – the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship – is a highly selective award for the nation’s top community college students to complete bachelor’s degrees at four-year institutions. From a pool of more than 1,500 applicants whittled to 406 semifinalists in February 2021, Amira is one of 72 recipients this year.
“I didn’t know if I’d make it as a finalist,” she says. “I’m really happy about that.”
She plans to attend UMBC and earn a bachelor’s in secondary education. Her scholarship covers up to $40,000 per year for two years. She says the application was thorough and lengthy: “When it was all done and turned in, it was a big relief.”
The scholarship is the perfect ending to her HCC experience, which started back when she was a student at Hammond High School. She was considering HCC, UMBC, and the University of Maryland for college. When she chose HCC, she experienced naysayers who disparaged community colleges, but she ignored them.
“People need to get it out of their system that there’s a stigma and community college is bad,” she says. “No matter my acceptances, it was always going to be HCC. It seemed like a really welcoming and fun school with a lot of opportunities for students. I wanted to get my prerequisites out of the way so I could go to a four-year college and not worry.”
She also didn’t have to worry about coping with lupus. At HCC, Amira found support from the disabilities support services office, which assisted her with the necessary accommodations to balance schoolwork with managing her 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.”
Amira was a member of HCC’s James W. Rouse Scholars honors program. For her capstone project, Amira used embroidery and interviews to explore how racial and ethnic groups are under-represented and misrepresented in popular culture. Executive Director of Academic Engagement Matthew J. Van Hoose, Ph.D., 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 her 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.”
Amira is pushing and HCC has pushed her. She credits the school for helping her grow in self-esteem and “come out of my shell. I learned so much about myself and my community,” she says. “I learned there’s a lot more I’m capable of. I’m a good public speaker, and my writing is improving so much.
“HCC has been like a village. Everyone has been friendly and welcoming, making for a nice environment that I’m going to miss a lot. I’m ready to move on to UMBC, but I wouldn’t trade my experience at HCC for the world.”
And now she leaves with a great gift from the Cooke Foundation.
Wherever you want to go, you can get there from here.