Leonardo (Leo) Ruales was in his Computer Science 122 class when he received word in somewhat spectacular fashion. President Anthony E. Munroe, Trustees Dr. Arnold C. Lewis, and Dr. Marion Bolden, and Professor Ladylease White entered Professor Yoo Jung An’s class accompanied by ringing bells, balloons and a rose bouquet. Leo had a stunned look on his face as the news sunk in.
John Nwankwo, who is president of the Student Government Association (SGA), was meeting with Dr. Munroe when he was suddenly ushered into the adjoining conference room and also met with bells, balloons and flowers. There an emotional John realized what he was receiving. “Did this really happen?” he said aloud amid his tears.
For both Leo and John, the news was the same: They are both recipients of the highly competitive Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Transfer Scholarship, awarding each student up to $120,000 to continue their education after earning their Essex Associate degrees this year.
“These awards are what we are all about,” Dr. Munroe said after each announcement. “Everyone is so proud of you.”
They are the 16th and 17th Essex students to earn the Cooke award, the most of any New Jersey community college. Nationally, there are only 47 transfer scholarship recipients for 2018 out of the nearly 2,500 community college students who applied.
Cooke transfer scholarship recipients are also eligible for graduate school funding of up to $75,000.
Interestingly, both Leo (Mathematics) and John (Engineering) have Cornell University at the top of their transfer list. Although both said the scholarship will afford them additional flexibility as they explore their options.
“I really don’t have any words for this,” Leo said as his classmates applauded. “I’m extremely grateful for the time I have been at ECC. I have received such wonderful support from faculty and friends, which has allowed me to grow. I really appreciated all of this.
“It has been a long journey from taking English as a Second Language classes to being a JKC Scholar. However, every part of the journey has been wonderful,” said Leo. He plans to major in physics and minor in computer engineering when he transfers after graduation.
“I was scared for my education because I believed my finances would have made me settle for less after graduating Essex,” said John after he had caught his breath. He added that he takes one day at a time as he develops his long and short run plans. He plans to pursue Electrical and Computer Engineering upon his transfer.
Dr. White, who is director and founder of the College’s rigorous Honors Program, first met John last year on a study abroad trip to Cuba, which was sponsored by the school’s Africana Institute. “She told me I would be a good candidate for the Cooke award, although I really didn’t know anything about it,” John recalled with a smile.
Dr. White noted that both Leo and John are in the Honors Program. “I’m very proud of John and Leo, as well as all my students in the program. They are some of the most dedicated students we have.”
She estimated that over the years, 90 percent of all the College’s Cooke recipients have been Honors Program students.