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Four Cooke Scholars Participate in White House’s Beating the Odds Summit

July 23, 2015 06:00 AM

Media Contact:  Elizabeth Davidson                 
703.723.8000 ext. 204
edavidson@jkcf.org

Four Cooke Scholars Participate in White House’s Beating the Odds Summit

LANSDOWNE, VA – Rising Cooke College Scholars Dawit Gebre and Emily Janis will join 130 college-bound, high school graduates from across the country today for a special event at the White House. During the 2015 Beating the Odds Summit, hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama, Dawit and Emily will take part in resource-rich panels and discussions designed to prepare them better for their academic journeys. Two of the summit’s sessions will be facilitated by Jack Kent Cooke Foundation staff, and one will feature current Cooke College Scholars Myles McMurchy, a student at Dartmouth College, and Merilin Castillo, a student at Harvard University.

Dana O’Neill, the director of the Cooke Foundation’s higher education programs, will lead “Unmasking Your Fears,” a session which will engage participants in a hands-on activity to explore some of the natural fears that surface when students head off to college for the first time and learn several simple, positive coping strategies.

Rebecca Cullen, the director of the foundation’s events and its Young Scholars Program, will facilitate a peer-to-peer discussion called “Tips for Navigating College,” where Myles and Merilin will shares stories about the successes and challenges of their first three years of college, offer advice, and share what they wish they had known as rising freshman.

“The First Lady’s summit is a priceless experience our scholars will never forget,” said Executive Director Harold Levy. “We are grateful for the opportunities the White House has provided the Cooke Foundation to collaborate and are delighted that two of our own will be leading sessions and sharing their expertise.”

The four Cooke Scholars participating in the White House event come from across the United States.

Growing up Dawit Gebre watched his father, an Ethiopian refugee, run their small convenience store, thus sparking his interest in business. In summer of 2009, he became the youngest person ever ordained a deacon in the Ethiopian Orthodox Synod in Exile, and since then his service to his community has only increased. Dawit has participated in a mission trip to Peru, served as president of STAND, a genocide awareness and outreach club at his school, spent countless weekends and summers tutoring students, and was voted the captain of his school’s soccer team. The sudden death of Dawit’s father last year has strengthened his resolve to study economics as at Stanford University and fulfill his father’s dreams.

Emily Janis is one of eight children and grew up on the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in Kyle, South Dakota. She has lived much of her life in a self-sufficient trailer nearly an hour from the main town and has persisted through several life challenges to become the valedictorian of her graduating class, earn her school’s award for top dramatist, lead her school’s oral interpretation team to a state tournament, star in a school play, and become a Cooke College Scholar. As a Cooke Young Scholar, Emily attended the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, Princeton University’s Summer Institute for the Gifted to study creative writing and photography, and spent several summers with Upward Bound at the University of Colorado-Boulder. She has a passion for poetry and performance, as well as a penchant for business, and plans to study entrepreneurship and performing arts at South Dakota State University.

Myles McMurchy is a rising senior at Dartmouth College studying history and public policy. As a College Scholar at Dartmouth, he is the head writing tutor at RWIT, the on-campus writing center, and also a research assistant at the Poverty and Learning Lab. A first-generation college student and former Young Scholar, Myles is committed to fighting inequity and poverty. He is spending his summer working in Washington, D.C., at the Alliance for Excellent Education as a policy and advocacy intern. He has taught eighth-grade writing at Breakthrough Collaborative in San Francisco and worked in downtown Baton Rouge at the Baton Rouge Youth Coalition. Myles has served urban homeless populations in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., in multiple service trips and also mentored high school students in Vermont and New Hampshire’s Upper Valley. After college, Myles hopes to teach and eventually pursue a master’s degree in public policy or go to law school.

Merilin Castillo is former Young Scholar, current College Scholar, and a rising senior at Harvard University majoring in history and literature. She is the president of Harvard’s Dominican Student Association and was the co-chair for the National Dominican Student Conference this past year. She helped to write the script and also acted in the play, “I, Too, Am Harvard,” and writes for an activist online magazine at Harvard called Renegade. This summer she is interning for the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships in a government relations role and studying for the LSAT. She has interned previously with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Foley Hoag LLP and plans to pursue business law after she graduates.


The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. By offering the largest scholarships in the country, comprehensive counseling and other support services to students from 7th grade to graduate school, the Foundation is dedicated to ensuring high-performing, low-income students have the support necessary to develop their talents and excel educationally. In addition to its scholarship programs, the Foundation provides grants for innovative, high-impact initiatives that benefit such students. By doing so, the Cooke Foundation seeks to use its resources to end the Excellence Gap, the disparity between the number of low and high income students who reach the top levels of academic performance. Founded in 2000, the Foundation has awarded $130 million in scholarships to 1,900 students and over $80 million in grants. www.jkcf.org

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