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Cooke Scholars Find Home at AU

By Patrick Bradley

2012 Jack Kent Cooke Scholars

From left in front, Leon, Flores, Stevenson, Bilyue, and Campbell; Matite and Robinson in back.

Scholar Ideals

AU isn’t home only to a host of award-winning faculty members; it’s also home to a number of award-winning student scholars. One group in particular stands out on campus as recipients of the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, started by the late former owner of Washington Redskins, provides scholarships to students from seventh grade through graduate school that demonstrate a passionate work ethic and financial need. College-age recipients can put their sizeable scholarships toward any university of their choosing, and seven decided on American University.

AU’s group of Cooke wonks come from across the country and abroad, bringing not only a wellspring of commitment, intellect, and talent to campus, but also stories and experiences that make their achievements all the more impressive.

For several, triumph over challenging circumstances paved the way to this scholarship.

After enduring family tragedy and tough financial times, Florida native and College of Arts & Sciences junior Charles Bilyue received the JKC Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. It’s something that has given him confidence, inspiration, and a grateful spirit on his path toward becoming an economics professor.

“It’s life-changing,” Bilyue said. “It’s really nice to know that when you fight to overcome adversity and difficulties in life that there are times when someone will say, ‘I see what you’re doing, and I believe in you. Here’s a helping hand.’”

Freshman Maresh Campbell is unique in the group, as she’s the only JKC College Scholar, meaning she’ll be spending all of her undergraduate years at AU. She was also a JKC Young Scholar, as the organization supported her through high school in Mississippi, when she and her family were displaced from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

“If I didn’t have this scholarship, I probably wouldn’t be at AU,” she said. “I always wanted to go to school out of state. They made that possible for me.”

Lesli Flores, a junior transfer student, recalls the moment she was awarded the scholarship that allowed her to follow her passion for juvenile law to AU.

“I started crying because…I can actually achieve all of my dreams and goals,” she said.

Flores had moved to the U.S. from Guatemala in 2005, knowing no English, but was soon taking AP classes in high school. During her two years at community college, she worked 40-hour weeks at a Michael’s craft store. She is currently a supervisor there and encourages coworkers to pursue higher education.

Collective Connection

For School of Public Affairs senior Kyle Stevenson, AU’s faculty and guest speakers are the reasons he transferred using his JKC scholarship. The Pi Kappa Phi fraternity brother has a passion for learning from people who are currently involved in policy, law, and governmental affairs.

“It’s different to get first-hand experience from someone working in the field [rather] than reading about it in text books,” he said. “That’s a good background to have, to read about what’s published, but actually speaking to someone who does this every day, it’s a really good experience.”

Satcha Robinson, a junior in the Kogod School of Business, agrees. As a first-semester transfer student, her focus on immigration policy and social entrepreneurship has already landed her real-world training.

“I’m taking a marketing class, and we’re working with a client this semester,” Robinson said. “So, it’s definitely a different experience because you get that hands-on feeling and a closer relationship with your professors.”

For School of International Service senior Daniel Leon, the JKC scholarship has allowed him to intern with the Clinton Global Initiative while at AU.

“There’s a professional connection here that doesn’t exist at so many schools because schools are either practical or theoretical, and American is one of those few schools in the nation that puts those two things together,” Leon said.

Family Unit

SPA senior and Kenya native Maxwell Matite said the scholarship offers a family connection with the six other scholars at AU and the more than 450 current “Cookie cousins” across the world.

“That’s what the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship does. They make you feel like a family,” Matite said. “They have been my shoulders to lean on. I’m grateful that they have been here.”