Remembering Dr. Matthew J. Quinn

Dr. Matthew J. Quinn

We were saddened to hear this weekend of the passing of Dr. Matthew Quinn, who served as our founding executive director for more than a decade.

“Dr. Quinn transformed Mr. Cooke’s vision into a roadmap that set the Foundation on a course for long-term success,” said Executive Director Seppy Basili. “His passion for supporting the academic journeys of high-achieving students with financial need shone clearly to all who knew him, and his efforts continue to guide our work even today.”

Dr. Quinn was selected from a field of more than 500 candidates as the first head of our Foundation in 2000. A lawyer with a doctorate in higher-education management, Dr. Quinn previously served as president of Carroll College in Montana for 11 years, following a career that included roles at Saint Joseph’s University, Iona College, and the New Jersey Department of Higher Education. “As a college president, I’m always on the begging end,” he told The Chronicle of Higher Education shortly after accepting his position with the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. “Here’s an opportunity to be on the giving end.”

When deciding how, exactly, the foundation would fulfill the mission envisioned by Jack Kent Cooke, Dr. Quinn approached his former colleagues and other senior administrators at some of the nation’s most revered colleges and universities with the goal of understanding where the Foundation could be most impactful. During one such discussion at Johns Hopkins University, an administrator mentioned that “some of his best students were transfers from two-year schools,” and that they performed as well as, if not better than, than students who started at Johns Hopkins as freshmen.

This inspired the Foundation’s focus on identifying high-achieving students in sometimes unconventional places. Dr. Quinn’s vision is reflected in our work today to support community college students — who not only transfer, but succeed — at America’s top colleges and universities. As Dr. Quinn put it, our work is about identifying and supporting students of outstanding ability who “need more of a tap on the shoulder rather than a medal on their chest.”

Dr. Quinn will be remembered for providing the leadership and vision that first brought the mission of our foundation to life. We have been able to cultivate our vibrant community of Cooke Scholars due largely to his contributions, and his legacy has endured beyond his tenure in both the Matthew J. Quinn Prize and the Quinn Youth Leadership Award. It also lives on in the support we provide each year to every student impacted by our work. He was a unique and wonderful man who will be dearly missed.