For the first time in several years, two students outside the United States received Phi Theta Kappa’s New Century Transfer Pathway Scholarship: Joshua Hirsch from Alberta, Canada, and Jessa Lyn Lizama from the Northern Mariana Islands.
The New Century Scholar program is regarded as a prestigious award for community college students. Only one student from each state is selected to receive a $2,250 scholarship. PTK partners with The Coca-Cola Foundation, The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, and the American Association of Community Colleges to fund the awards.
PTK funds the award for students living abroad.
Joshua Hirsch had been working at a restaurant during his time at Medicine Hat College in Alberta, Canada, when the coronavirus pandemic left him furloughed. He’d been hoping to work this summer to save money for his transition to the University of Lethbridge this fall.
The New Century Transfer Pathway Scholarship was just what he needed.
“I haven’t been able to work, so when I found out I was super relieved,” he said. “It will save me a whole semester of worrying about how I will pay for it.”
Joshua was born and raised in Medicine Hat. He graduated high school a year early, in 2017, and took a year off, working at Zumiez skateboard shop. He was soon promoted to assistant manager and attended business conferences, so when he enrolled at Medicine Hat College in fall 2018, he was already familiar with many of the business concepts he was learning.
“I learned a lot about what a good manager looks like,” he said.
Since high school, Joshua has been preparing for a career in law. His position at Zumiez cemented his decision to be a corporate lawyer — of the 10 or so jobs he’s had since he was 14 years old, he said his favorites have been those letting him help people.
“Working with people and for people — it’s my biggest motivator,” he said.
He put this into practice at Medicine Hat College, where he was treasurer of the Business Ambassador Students, an organization that aims to make students feel more comfortable in the business world.
He was also the student member of the college’s Board of Governors and participated in the hiring of a new college president, and he was a representative for the Student Association, advocating on behalf of the students in the face of potential tuition and fee increases.
“A lot of it was being a voice for the students,” he said.
Being a voice for the students means you have to know what students want in the first place, which was a challenge because student engagement on campus was low. Joshua helped organize events such as Diwali and a Chinese New Year celebration to better engage the international student population.
Joshua and the Board of Governors also voted to approve $250,000 to go toward new program identification and enhancement, hoping to find a niche for the college that will make students want to go there, rather than viewing it as a last resort.
“College engagement with students is a crucial key part in ensuring that all members of the college community are happy,” he said.
Joshua graduated from Medicine Hat College in May 2020. He will transfer to the University of Lethbridge this fall, and then he plans to apply to the University of Toronto’s five-year joint master’s and juris doctorate program.
Jessa Lyn Lizama
Jessa was born and raised on Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands until 2008, when she and her family moved to the Philippines. She made good friends and chose a career path in art and design, but cheating was normal at her new school, and she adapted by cheating some herself. But, she knew she was better — and smarter — than that.
Her school divided honors students from “regular” students, and she often wondered if she would ever get to be an honors student. She found confidence in drafting class in which she learned the fundamentals of architecture. Returning to Saipan in 2016, she left the cheating behind her and got serious about her academics.
“I had a full passion of doing art, and that saved me from my own insecurities, because art felt like a place where I can express my own freedom,” she said.
After graduating high school, Jessa set a goal to do her absolute best when she enrolled at Northern Marianas College. But there were challenges there, too. She’s a first-generation college student, and her college didn’t offer an art degree.
Jessa knew she wasn’t alone, so she founded the New Media Arts Club. It became a place where she and other art students could support each other and share their experiences navigating college and preparing to transfer.
“As the president of the New Media Art Club and a member of Phi Theta Kappa, my passion is to not only bring out the best in me, but to help other students as well who are struggling to get the help they need,” she said.
Jessa was in Saipan when Super Typhoon Yutu hit in October 2018. She was lucky that her home only sustained minimal damage, so she turned her attention to her community, volunteering to help clean up a local elementary school.
She also participated in her school’s Cash for College initiative, helping students find resources for financial aid and scholarships.
“I realized that my passion in leadership is to help other people,” she said. “I want to let them gain control of their own path and know how they can succeed as a college student.”
Jessa graduated in May 2020 and is planning to transfer to Rochester Institute of Technology in New York to study graphic design. Her long-term goal is to become an art director.
She’ll use the New Century Transfer Pathway Scholarship to purchase a new laptop for school, but the award itself is much more meaningful to this student who went from cheating in high school to a role model and leader in college.
“This award makes me emotional because it means that all the hard work I have put through is finally being paid off,” she said.