December 2022 Newsletter

Cooke Scholars and Alumni, including Rex Ledesma (second from left), and his sibling Reg (third from left), at Scholars Weekend 2022 in Washington, DC.

For two decades, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has awarded more than $230 million in scholarships to nearly 3,000 high-achieving students with financial need. When we think about scholarship programs like ours, we often think of them in terms of academic access and success. Beyond their academic prowess, our Scholars are making meaningful contributions to the world – they are highly talented and motivated individuals who are trying to solve some of the country’s and world’s greatest challenges—from gun violence to childhood hunger

Take, for example, Rex Ledesma, a Cooke Scholar who was born in the Philippines. In 2001, when Rex was four years old, he and his family legally immigrated to the United States under his father’s work visa. Personal circumstances resulted in the loss of this legal status; however, his family continued to stay in the states to pursue a better life. In 2012, Rex was granted temporary permission to stay in the United States, through the policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). It’s a fragile arrangement that is now under direct threat, leaving hundreds of thousands of individuals in legal limbo. Fortunately, an obscure immigration law that Rex happens to meet the qualifications for has provided him a pathway to lawful permanent residence. But such a pathway remains closed to so many other undocumented Americans. 

“It’s incredibly unfair that I am able to transcend this because of an esoteric law and that I was lucky,” Rex says. “Luck should not be involved in the immigration process. The idea that you need resources by your side to interpret the law, and to help you understand what you should be doing, I don’t think that’s right.”

This is what led Rex to, a political advocacy organization that pushes for legislation reforming the immigration system. Recently, Rex was part of’s fly-in program that sent undocumented Americans to meet with U.S. senators and representatives to promote immigration reform. They argued that passing legislation creating pathways to citizenship during the current lame-duck session, before the political makeup of the House changes and further limits any chance of such a bill coming to the floor, is imperative. 

For Rex, his work with FWD, as well as another organization called Reboot, is about offering more than just a critique of a broken system, but viable alternatives to that system. “You need theory, academia, scholarship, and you need practice,” he says. “It helps that it’s personal.”

It’s also personal for Daven McQueen, a 2015 Cooke College Scholar and 2021 Cooke Graduate Scholar. Daven is currently a graduate student and teacher at Emerson College, where they teach essay writing to college freshmen. They are also an LGBTQ community organizer in the Boston area. Lately, their organizing has largely focused on preserving the right to abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade earlier this year. They have helped organize speak outs, marches, and other community events.

“Even though in Massachusetts, we have those rights still guaranteed, we just really feel that it’s important that abortion remains accessible for everyone, no matter where they live,” Daven says. Daven sees their organizing as being directly related to their work as a teacher and graduate student, which focuses on language justice and language of minoritized identities. In turn, they’re applying the lessons they’ve learned as an organizer to their role as an instructor, ensuring “the classroom and real world aren’t so separate.”

The aim of our scholarship is to provide opportunities for Scholars to learn, engage and lead purposefully, develop expertise, connect with others, and make a meaningful contribution to the world. We have countless examples of Scholars who are fulfilling their dreams as teachers, in corporations, as entrepreneurs, in medicine, as artists, and beyond. Rex’s and Daven’s efforts – like those of many Scholars – exemplify the critical knowledge, skills, and networks of influence that we encourage our Scholars to pursue. 

Warm regards,

Seppy Basili


Cooke Foundation Highlights

The Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship application is now open and will close at midnight on January 12, 2023 in your local time zone. Recipients will receive up to $55,000 per year to pursue any field of study at a four-year school, as well as personalized advising, and the opportunity to apply for graduate school funding after completing a bachelor’s degree. Here are some ways you can spread the word with eligible students.

Cooke Transfer Scholar Izzi Greenberg serves as the Executive Director of the Middlesex Coalition for Children in Connecticut. Her work over the past nine years has been to support children and early childcare providers in Connecticut by taking on issues like youth injustice, childhood hunger, economic security, and improving the early childhood education sector. 

In reflection of Native American Heritage Month in November, the Cooke Foundation interviewed Grantee AISES, as well as a Native American Cooke Scholar. In this Q&A, Dr. Johnny Poolaw, director of student success at the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, shares about the unique needs of Indigenous students, and how his own personal college experience motivated his work today.  Matilda Anderson, a 2014 Cooke Young Scholar and 2019 College Scholar, grew up on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. She’s currently studying at University of Kansas, and after graduation plans to return home to South Dakota and help build a recreation center on the reservation to support the health and wellbeing of her community.


News for High-Achieving Students

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is proud to support the Transfer Scholars Network,  a new initiative led by the Aspen Institute. The recently established program helps standout community college students enroll in selective colleges by connecting them with admissions officials. The initial group of eight community colleges and fourteen four-year universities have committed to provide students in the initiative with strong financial aid packages, support as they navigate the transfer admissions and financial aid process, and dedicated support once on campus. You can read more in outlets like Boston Globe, The Hechinger Report, and Forbes.

Yale and Harvard Law Schools announced they will no longer participate in the ranking system conducted by the U.S. News & World Report of the nation’s best law schools. This change comes after long-standing criticism of the rankings’ failure to reward or encourage institutions for prioritizing the inclusion of students from low income communities or advocating for need-based aid. Since the statements from Yale and Harvard, several other institutions like Columbia and Georgetown University have followed suit with announcements of their withdrawals. While advocates have long criticized college rankings, this marks the first time a notable number of institutions have begun to recant their participation.

In the wake of declining college enrollments, an increasing number of universities are now introducing “direct admissions”. This experimental admissions strategy allows colleges to make offers of admission before the student even applies. Common App, one of the application organizations that has pioneered this approach, recently expanded its program to include 14 higher ed institutions. By cutting the lengthy admissions process, universities hope to strengthen enrollment and bolster student body diversity. 

The Hechinger Report explores the cut in recent college prices, predicting what could be “tuition resets” for many institutions. For the first time since the early 1980s, the cost of attendance has slowed beneath inflation. This change follows trends in low enrollment, growth in public criticism over the value of a degree, and the willingness of those to pay for higher education.


What We’re Reading

New York TimesApplying to College, and Trying to Appear “Less Asian”

Washington PostSupreme Court to review legality of Biden’s student loan forgiveness program

ForbesTeaming up to bolster transparency on college costs

The Chronicle of Higher EducationA Race-Neutral Way to Recruit Diverse Students

IntelligencerWhat Does an SAT Score Mean Anymore?