Reflecting on 2016 and the Challenges Ahead

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation enters our 17th year more dedicated than ever to creating opportunities for talented students with financial need.

As we do so, it is helpful to reflect on some of the recent accomplishments we will continue to build upon. Here are 10 endeavors pursued by the Cooke Foundation in 2016:


1. We brought together Cooke Scholars for the second Alumni Summit in San Francisco.

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In October, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation hosted 95 Cooke Scholar Alumni at our biennial alumni summit in San Francisco. The group showed up to the event ready to reconnect with their fellow scholars and participate in various sessions centered on the theme of “Connecting Vision & Action”.


2. Amherst College was awarded our $1 million Cooke Prize for Equity in Educational Excellence.

The Cooke Prize for Equity in Educational Excellence is a $1 million prize awarded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to a selective college or university with an excellent record of admitting, supporting and graduating outstanding low-income students. Amherst’s percentage of low-income students receiving federal Pell Grants rose from about 15 percent in 2006-2007 to nearly 25 percent in 2015-2016.


3. Three Miami Dade College graduates were among the 75 new Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholars.

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Executive Director Harold O. Levy joined Miami Dade College Provost Lenore Rodicio to visit Valentina d’Empaire, Juan J. Albrecht and Yessica Maltes and welcome them in-person to the Cooke Scholar community. These students were three of the 75 recipients of our Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which provides $40,000 per year for talented community college graduates to complete their bachelor’s degrees.


4. Our “True Merit” report alerted educators to the shockingly low number of low-income students at selective schools.

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Students from families in the bottom economic quartile comprise only three percent of enrollment in the most competitive schools, while those from the top economic quartile comprise 72 percent. Released in January, “True Merit: Ensuring Our Brightest Students Have Access to Our Best Colleges and Universities” described several obstacles in the college admissions and enrollment process. In June, we published a supplemental issue brief recommending action steps for colleges and universities.


5. Baltimore’s Kathy Le was among the 85 new Cooke College Scholarship recipients.


In 2016, we awarded Cooke College Scholarships to 85 high-achieving high school seniors. Kathy Le found out she was awarded the $40,000 per year scholarship in a surprise announcement at her high school, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. Her research on genetic mutation led Kathy to be named a semifinalist in the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search.


6. We awarded $150,000 in Good Neighbor Grants to seven local nonprofit organizations.


The Cooke Foundation’s 2016 Good Neighbor Grants recipients provide academic and arts enrichment programs serving more than 3,600 low- and moderate-income students in Northern Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Recipients included 826DC, Audubon Naturalist Society, The Bluemont Concert Series, First Star Inc., KIPP DC, Loudoun Youth, and Traveling Players Ensemble.


7. Cooke Scholars learned how to maximize their impact on the world at Scholars Weekend.


At our annual gathering, new recipients get to know one another and experience a full dose of the Cooke Scholar community while they attended sessions on college and professional success. We also honored the recipient of our $10,000 Matthew J. Quinn Prize, Cooke Scholar Olya Yarychkivska, the co-founder of a nonprofit organization promoting civic engagement and democracy in Ukraine.


8. We convened 100 high school principals to address the Excellence Gap in Washington, D.C.


Together with CLASS Coalition, the Cooke Foundation hosted our second Closing the Excellence Gap Summit in Washington, D.C. The event brought together 100 principals from top-performing STEM and magnet public high schools to discuss ways to better serve low-income, high-achieving students and strengthen the school-to-workforce pipeline. In addition to visiting Congressional offices and working together in breakout sessions, the principals heard from Delaware Governor Jack Markell, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Labor Chris Lu, and Reach Higher Executive Director Eric Waldo.


9. Our new cohort of 70 Cooke Young Scholars gathered at Johns Hopkins University for Welcome Weekend.


The Cooke Foundation brought together all 70 of our new Cooke Young Scholars and their families to spend a weekend at the Johns Hopkins University campus. These rising high school freshman enter the Young Scholars Program as our fifteenth cohort, and traveled from all over the nation to join us for Welcome Weekend.


10. We highlighted our work in scholarships, grants, and research in our State of the Foundation report.

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The Cooke Foundation is challenging the obstacles facing high achieving, low-income students by educating the public, awarding prizes, making grants to other organizations with similar missions, and conducting high-visibility research. For the first time this year, we compiled updates on these various commitments and profiles of some of our talented Cooke Scholars in a single place.


The year ahead is filled with challenges: college tuition is at record highs; many states have cut funding for public colleges and universities; growing numbers of students are threatened with hunger and homelessness; and there is uncertainty about what the federal government will do to create equal educational opportunities for high-achieving students from low-income families.

Inspired by Cooke Scholars, the foundation will prepare to confront these obstacles by invoking our motto: Think Big. Work Hard. Achieve.

We hope you will join us.


Harold O. Levy
Executive Director
Jack Kent Cooke Foundation