February 2023 Newsletter

Over the past two decades, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has supported thousands of students with financial need by providing scholarship dollars so they can reach their educational goals. Perhaps just as important as the financial support our Scholars receive, however, is the thriving network of more than 3,000 Cooke Scholars they can connect with, lean on, and learn from.

The postsecondary education system in the United States remains immensely stratified by socioeconomic class. At our nation’s highly selective colleges, just three percent of incoming freshmen come from families in the bottom income quartile, while nearly three-quarters of freshmen come from families in the wealthiest quartile. The unfair odds belie the fact that when high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds do attend selective institutions, they perform as well as their more affluent peers. Our Scholars are stellar examples of this phenomenon, not only enrolling at some of the country’s most prestigious institutions but thriving at them. 

But that doesn’t mean arriving on these campuses isn’t daunting. Scholars have shared with us how difficult it can be to find a sense of belonging in those early days of their college experience. That’s where our network of Scholars and Alumni comes into play. A freshman struggling with the transition to college, for instance, can connect with a sophomore or junior that has already been in their place. These older Scholars know how difficult the adjustment can be, and they can help younger students navigate the academic and emotional complexities of their shared experiences. This is a type of near-peer mentoring, and it’s a proven way of fostering student success.

The Foundation offers several ways for current Scholars to interact with one another, as well as with Alumni. Our Cooke Scholar Ambassadors attend Young Scholar summer events such as Welcome Weekend and Senior Summit in order to answer questions and offer advice based on their own experiences. During Young Scholar college tours, Cooke Scholars act as informal tour guides. We were also excited to recently announce the new Cooke Alumni Mentoring Program (CAMP), aimed at connecting current undergraduate Cooke Scholars to Alumni with similar academic or professional interests. 

Another way our Cooke Alumni have shown up for the Cooke Scholars following in their footsteps is by providing internship opportunities. For example, Susan Yang, a 2013 Cooke Graduate Scholar, selected 2021 Cooke College Scholar Diamond Trevino to complete an internship at A Seat at the Piano (ASAP) last summer. Yang founded ASAP with a team of other pianists who believe in building a growing database of piano compositions by lesser-known composers who have been overlooked because of their gender, race, or other social barriers. Diamond spent her time expanding ASAP’s database, writing social media posts, and broadening her understanding of classical piano. 

Similarly, 2021 Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholar James Crawford, a political science and government major at the University of California, Berkeley, completed his summer internship with Omena, an organization founded by 2018 Cooke Transfer Scholar Francesca Raoelison. Omena’s mission is to stop the cycle of emotional abuse through training, community support, and educational materials. Crawford spent much of his internship conducting outreach with the public and existing donors, raising funds for Omena, and spreading its mission while also learning about a new topic he didn’t previously realize he was interested in. 

The power of these interactions does not end at graduation, either. Our Scholars serve as a professional network, as well, providing students and recent graduates with the connections, relationships, and other career-advancing resources those from more privileged backgrounds often take for granted. Traci Williams—a librettist, activist, and 2015 Cooke Transfer Scholar—wrote the text for her first opera after composer Evan Kassof, a 2012 Graduate Arts Scholar, posted in a Cooke Scholars and Alumni Facebook group about a project he was leading. Williams has now written librettos for three operas, earning acclaim and even a standing ovation.  

We encourage our Scholars to remember they have this amazing network supporting them every step of their academic journey and beyond. 

Warm regards, 

Seppy Basili


Cooke Foundation Highlights

Undergraduate Transfer Scholar, Edin Madrid was recently profiled in PRIME, a UCLA Student Media magazine. Madrid came with his family to the United States from Guatemala when he was seven. As a teenager, he became involved in the gang culture of Los Angeles and was incarcerated for 14 years. After his release, Madrid applied to five of the top 10 public universities in the nation, with the help of programs like the Cooke Transfer Scholarship. He was accepted by every institution he applied to. Now a junior studying Sociology at UCLA, Madrid plans to help drive college accessibility for those like him.

Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist recipient Kyle Ryu was featured on NPR’s From the Top podcast, which showcases the music, stories, and unique humor of the best young classical musicians. In hopes of inspiring others, Ryu shed light on mental health and how music and playing the cello changed his life. You can listen to the full podcast here.

News for High-Achieving Students

A new report from the National College Attainment Network found that almost $3.6 billion in Pell Grants went unclaimed by qualifying high school seniors in 2022. NCAN determined that 767,000 Pell-eligible students did not complete the application, missing out on grants that averaged $4,686 for the 2022-2023 academic year.

In his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden revealed that the Department of Education will announce more than $280 million in grants to increase the number of mental health care professionals in high-need districts and strengthen the school-based mental health profession pipeline. A NASPA survey recently found that 72 percent of student affairs professionals reported that the mental health of students and employees worsened during 2022. At the same time, the stigma around mental health has improved, with 93 percent of students saying they feel more confident in speaking about their mental health.

Officials at the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA), now say they may not finish restructuring and simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in time for the October 2023 filing season. This could delay students receiving federal aid. The overhaul of the system includes making changes to how much money a student is allotted and streamlining the form itself for an easier application process. Congress is also planning to increase the maximum Pell Grant award by $500.

The Supreme Court is gearing up to decide the outcome of the Biden Administration’s student loan forgiveness plan. At the end of February, the Court will hear two cases challenging the loan program. Individuals can visit the studentaid.gov website for further information.

What We’re Reading

The Hechinger ReportA customer service upgrade for HBCUs

EdTechHow Universities Can Use AI Chatbots to Connect with Students and Drive Success

DiverseA Return to the ‘Normal-Normal’: Colleges Ready to Adjust to End of Pandemic Emergencies

The Hechinger ReportSTUDENT VOICE: After confronting mental health struggles in college, I’m now helping others

USA TODAYFirst gen students are missing from the nation’s top colleges. Here’s how virtual advising could help