Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) Science major and Kaplan Scholar Norbesida Bagabila was one of nearly 3,000 community college students from across the country to apply for the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation 2017 Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship.
He was then one of 597 semifinalists in competition for the award.
And on Monday, April 17 — in what he thought was a celebration for just being a semifinalist — Bagabila learned he was one of 55 community college students nationwide who had in fact won the Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship.
Bagabila was stunned to realize he was being invited to the President’s Conference Room on BMCC’s main campus at 199 Chambers Street, for an announcement of his winning of the scholarship.
“I thought I was just a semifinalist,” he said. “But when I entered the room, my heart dropped. It was like switching from hot to cold. No words can describe how happy I am.”
All smiles, Bagabila shook hands with BMCC President Antonio Pérez, who warmly congratulated him. “We consider your achievement to be a highlight for our institution,” the President said.
This generous scholarship will provide up to $40,000 a year for two to three years, for Bagabila to complete his bachelor’s degree after he graduates with his Associate degree in Science from BMCC.
Eligible applicants do not have to be U.S. citizens, and there is no age limit. But they must income qualify, and meet a rigorous set of criteria.
“Our Undergraduate Transfer Scholars have a proven record of accomplishment at elite colleges and universities and have gone on to successful careers in many professions,” Cooke Foundation Executive Director Harold O. Levy said. “This is among the most prestigious scholarships in the country and we are extremely proud of the talented students who have been selected.”
"This is how it starts."
The path to winning the scholarship, Bagabila says, wasn’t easy. “It felt like a shot in the dark, even to get into a community college. After I left my family and moved here from Burkina Faso, in West Africa, I spent two years learning English. I lived with a friend in Queens at first, and had two jobs. One was working as a dishwasher for 12-hour shifts, in Manhattan. The other one was at a pizza place, and then I worked as a security guard.”
When he decided to enroll at BMCC, “I met someone in admissions who made me feel welcome,” he says. “She made me feel that everything would be alright.”
Now he is waiting to hear from the schools he applied to, and where he plans to complete his bachelor’s degree: Stanford University, Brown University, Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University and Swarthmore College.
Bagabila’s ultimate goal is to be part of the global biomedical engineering community. “One thing I want to do is help fix the health problems in Burkina Faso,” he says. “I would like to help create a research institution that involves a partnership between college students from the United States and those in Burkina Faso. It’s still a dream at this point, but this is how it starts.”
The Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. Since 2000, the foundation has provided over $152 million in scholarships to nearly 2,200 students from 8th grade through graduate school, along with comprehensive counseling and other support services. The foundation has also awarded over $90 million in grants to organizations that serve such students. www.jkcf.org