BMCC President Antonio Pérez and members of the BMCC Administration surprised BMCC science major Aurela Dragani on May 19, with the news that she has received the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. Aurela was not aware that she had received the scholarship until President Pérez delivered the news.
“I’m very happy to have been given this opportunity, and I’m very thankful and grateful that I received this award,” Aurela said. “This means so much to me. This is definitely the best thing that has ever happened to me up to this point in my life.”
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship is the largest private scholarship for two-year and community college transfer students across the country. Only about 85 students won the scholarship this year, out of thousands that applied. Of the 17 BMCC students who applied, there were five finalists for the award, including Aurela. Winners receive up to $40,000 a year to complete their bachelor’s degrees by transferring to a four-year college or university.
Aurela was born and raised in the city of Shkoder, in northwestern Albania. “I was only two years old when Albania was hit by massive riots, anarchy and civil war,” she says. “This, together with the 1999 war in Kosovo, helped make me the person I am today.” She graduates from BMCC in June 2016, having maintained a 4.0 GPA and working as a lab assistant on a cellular research project led by Science Professor Mario Benavides.
“Aurela has been helping to investigate the role of different proteins in the nuclear membrane of the cell that are essential in fighting diseases such a cardiomyopathy, muscular dystrophy and others,” says Professor Benavides. “I trained her in basic molecular biology techniques and soon she was working on her own, doing cell cultures, protein analyses and analyzing the impact of stress on cells in toxic conditions. She is very motivated. She has been getting excellent lab data, which helped me obtain a PSC CUNY Grant to continue the research through June 2017. The data will also enable us to pursue publication about our research in the next year or so.”
In addition to winning the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, Aurela is a recipient of the BMCC Foundation Loretta Lee scholarship and a member of Phi Theta Kappa. An active member of the BOLT and PLUS Leadership programs in the Office of Student Activities, she took part in BMCC’s Alternative Spring Break program, travelling with a group of students to New Orleans and helping build homes with Habitat for Humanity. “BMCC offers many ways for us to give back,” says Aurela, who hopes to attend Columbia University, and is waiting to hear on her application for Fall 2016.