Teri Jones grew up on a rural farm in Ohio in a family who determined a person’s value by the “sweat involved in one’s own labors” – it was presumed that only “rich” people could afford college. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, however, defines value a little differently and has determined Jones’ worth to be closer to $170,000.
Jones is one of 77 Phi Theta Kappa members to receive a 2015 Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. In all, 90 two-year college students were selected as scholars by the nation’s largest private scholarship program.
It’s the largest cohort of scholars since the Cooke Foundation began the program 14 years ago. This year, 2,061 community college students applied, representing 540 community colleges in all 50 states, one U.S. territory and the District of Columbia.
The investment the Foundation is making in these 77 Phi Theta Kappa members has the potential to top $13 million. Each student will receive a scholarship worth up to $40,000 a year for up to three years – up to $120,000 total – to complete his or her undergraduate degree.
In addition, the Foundation offers an internal graduate scholarship for which scholars may apply that awards up to $50,000 each per year.
“We value the strong working relationship that Phi Theta Kappa has for many years shared with the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation in providing our members access to selective senior colleges,” said Dr. Nancy Rieves, CEO of the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation. “We are extremely grateful for the commitment that the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has made to our two-year college students. It’s an investment that will benefit us all.”
Historically, roughly 85 percent of Jack Kent Cooke Scholars are Society members; and, many Jack Kent Cooke Scholars go on to receive various other Phi Theta Kappa awards, said Christin Grissom, Phi Theta Kappa’s Director of Scholarship Operations.
“For many of our members, receiving this scholarship not only alleviates the financial burden associated with pursuing higher credentials, but it also provides hope for a brighter future, encouragement and opportunities that extend far beyond the classroom,” she said, noting that Jack Kent Cooke Scholars receive mentorship guidance and become part of an extended family of scholars. “Scholarships are within reach, so put forth the energy and time necessary to apply.”
Scholars are selected based on high academic ability and achievements, persistence, leadership and financial need. The average GPA of the 2015 Scholars is 3.92, and their average adjusted gross income is approximately $10,200. In 2014’s cohort, 79 percent were first-generation college students.
“Community colleges hold some of the best untapped talent in the nation, but often these students need financial resources, guidance and support in order to take the next step and earn bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees,” said Harold O. Levy, Executive Director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. “The Cooke Foundation has always been committed to identifying the best of the best in community colleges across the country, and this year we have an extraordinary group.”
Past Undergraduate Transfer Scholars have attended such prestigious colleges as Amherst College, Columbia University, Cornell University, Georgetown University, Stanford University, Wellesley College and Yale University.
The Jack Kent Cooke award will allow Jones to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which had invited her to apply and ultimately offered her a $20,000 scholarship. She is scheduled to attend classes in the fall.
“I am living proof that art is indeed a gateway to helping students identify areas of giftedness,” she said. “I hope to collaborate with teachers on using art as a viable tool in the classroom to prepare students in other academic areas. My goal is to change the narrative where art education is concerned.”
Jones had always wanted to attend college, but her family’s attitude toward continuing education led her to believe it was out of reach. By her junior year of high school, she was living in an adolescent treatment center. She dropped out just two months before graduation, with only one class to go.
She became pregnant with her first child a year later and moved to Arizona to live with an aunt. Not yet wanting to give up on her dream of attending college, she worked to earn her final credit toward high school graduation.
“I was 20 years old, and every day for a full semester I pushed my baby in his stroller to my classroom at the local high school,” she said. “His stroller sat beside my desk for 45 minutes each day while I earned the last credit that I needed to graduate.”
The next 20-plus years brought two more children, marriage and divorce, an abusive relationship, a Graves’ disease diagnosis, near homelessness, multiple eye surgeries and the suicide of her father. At her wit’s end, Jones turned to drawing – an old hobby that brought her some better days at last.
Now living in Georgia, Jones enrolled at the University of North Georgia, where she excelled. She was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa’s Rho Mu Chapter and received much-needed support from many faculty members, advisors and college administrators as she worked her way through tutoring sessions and student loan applications. After a long journey, news of her Jack Kent Cooke scholarship award nearly brought her to her knees.
“I almost passed out, and the director of my visual arts program came to help hold me up,” she said. “All of my mentors were there to support me. I could not stop crying and telling everyone how much I loved them for helping to make such a difference in my life.”
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation will begin accepting applications for the 2016 Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship this fall.