Photo of three JKC scholarsThree MGCCC students are among only 60 high-achieving community college students from across the nation selected to receive the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. The highly competitive national scholarship aims for Cooke Scholars to complete their undergraduate educations with as little debt as possible. The award, which is last dollar funding after all institutional aid, can provide them with as much as $55,000 a year to complete a bachelor’s degree.

Students William Sky Paulk, Frederick Cook, and Ashleigh Pierce were all selected for the scholarship. They are the only students from Mississippi selected for the scholarship.

“These three MGCCC scholars are among the most elite scholars nationwide,” said Dr. Mary S. Graham, MGCCC president. “Their selection exemplifies not only their academic excellence but also their resilience and determination. While they represent the best of MGCCC, they also showcase the immense talent and potential that thrives within Mississippi’s community colleges. We celebrate their success and applaud their dedication to pursuing higher education, knowing that they will continue to excel and inspire others on their educational journey.”

Paulk, from Pascagoula, is majoring in biomedical engineering. He plans to attend Mississippi State University in the fall, eventually working in prosthetics and orthotics.  He is a member of the Pi Epsilon Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the Student Government Association, Hispanic American Club, and Oak Club.  He served as a regional officer for Phi Theta Kappa. He was encouraged by his advisor, John Miller, to apply for the scholarship and said he is glad he did.  “I was surprised and a little shocked when I found out.  It also made me feel so much lighter and fulfilled because I knew I could follow my dreams without having to worry about the finances of it all.  I am thrilled,” he said.

Cook, also from Pascagoula, is majoring in Electrical Engineering and plans to get a master’s in business administration.  He will attend Mississippi State University in the fall.  He is a member of the Student Government Association, the Pi Epsilon Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, and The Honors College. He served as a Phi Theta Kappa Officer, Sophomore Class President for SGA, and was elected Mr. Jackson County Campus.  Excited about the scholarship, Cook said he has so many people at MGCCC to thank for the opportunity. “I could not have accomplished this without the instructors who have helped me along the way, my Phi Theta Kappa advisor, Mr. John Miller, and officer team who push me to be the best in and out of the classroom, and Mrs. Brandi Fayard who encouraged me to get involved and enhanced the amazing experience I have had here at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.”

Pierce, from Pass Christian, is majoring in social work and plans to attend The University of Southern Mississippi in the fall.  She was president of the Omicron Alpha Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, president of the Mississippi/Louisiana Regional District of Phi Theta Kappa, and a member of the Student Government Association.  “When I found out that I was receiving the award I completely lost it,” she said. “I broke down crying. This is absolutely life changing for me and my family. I feel like all the pain and heart ache I’ve been through in trying to run a family and attend school fulltime has been worth it. I feel relief, joy, and excited anticipation over what the future holds!”

According to Community College Research Center research, transfer pathways from community colleges are a significant contributor to enrollment and diversity at four-year institutions. However, a lack of scholarship opportunities for transfer students, as well as other obstacles like losing credits during the transfer process, continue to keep bachelor’s degree completion rates low.

“Community college students remain far too underrepresented at our nation’s top institutions, despite clear research demonstrating their success once they arrive. Our scholarship is one way we aim to ensure that high-achieving students have the opportunity to complete their degree where they want, regardless of their financial background,” said Seppy Basili, executive director of the Cooke Foundation.

In addition to the financial support, Cooke Transfer Scholars receive comprehensive educational advising – guidance that is crucial for navigating their transition to four-year colleges and planning their career paths. Cooke Scholars also benefit from access to internship opportunities, study abroad and graduate school funding, as well as a dynamic network of over 3,300 Cooke Scholars and Alumni.

This year’s competition saw nearly 1,700 applications from over 380 community colleges. Applicants were evaluated on their academic prowess, financial need, persistence, community service, and leadership qualities. A complete list of the 2024 Cooke Transfer Scholars and their respective community colleges is available here.

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