Melissa Batz Receives the $5,000 Quinn Youth Leadership Award

Cooke Scholar Melissa Batz

Cooke Scholar Melissa Batz

Each year at our Scholars Weekend banquet, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation announces the recipients of the Matthew J. Quinn Prize and the Matthew J. Quinn Youth Leadership Award. Both awards honor the foundation’s first executive director, Dr. Matthew J. Quinn, who served from 2000 to 2010. 

This blog post is the third in a three-part series to profile our 2017 recipients (click to read the first and second posts). The Quinn Prize, a $10,000 award, is given annually to Cooke Scholars or alumni in recognition of their outstanding achievement in community service. The Quinn Youth Leadership Award, a $5,000 award, is given annually to one or more current Cooke Young Scholars. 

Melissa Batz is recognized as the 2017 Matthew J. Quinn Youth Leadership Award recipient for her extraordinary achievement in research and community activism. Melissa graduated from the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey in the spring and will matriculate at Northwestern University this fall. While in high school, Melissa conducted research on high achieving college students with financial need and hopes to use her research to inspire institutional change at Lawrenceville and beyond.

As a first-generation Latina from a low-income background, Melissa faced a major transition when she moved from her hometown of San Bernardino, California to a private boarding school in New Jersey. While she adjusted to the new culture at Lawrenceville, Melissa was struck by the lack of shared experiences between herself and her peers based on differences between race and class. This experience, combined with a passion for social justice, fueled Melissa’s interest in studying how socioeconomic status shapes one’s experience at selective universities. During the spring term of junior year, Melissa travelled to six different universities to interview Cooke College Scholars and met with scholars via Skype. Her interviews with fifteen College Scholars collected information about their background, financial status, and educational experiences.

Melissa coded the collection of student interviews by themes such as home life, transition to a highly selective college, and student sense of belonging. She presented her findings at Lawrenceville’s “Community Day,” which is a series of workshops to discuss contemporary pressing issues. Students read an excerpt from the report, looked at data from the Cooke Foundation’s True Merit report, and discussed how Lawrenceville can change to become more welcoming towards students who have financial need.

Through this research, Melissa is working to give voice to the experiences of the students behind the “percentage of students on financial aid” in a college brochure.