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Two NOVA students receive prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarships

Jack Kent Cooke Scholars
Northern Virginia Community College Acting President Mel D. Schiavelli (middle) congratulated NOVA students Chun-Ming “Chris” Chen and Maria Vera Alvarez on receiving scholarships from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation

Chun-Ming “Chris” Chen of Vienna and Maria Vera Alvarez of South Riding have been awarded Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarships. Both students attend Northern Virginia Community College.

Chen and Vera Alvarez are among 90 students nationally to receive the prestigious award which provides up to $40,000 a year toward tuition, books, living expenses and required fees for the final two to three years needed to earn a bachelor’s degree. It is the largest private scholarship for two-year and community college transfer students in the country.

“Everyone at NOVA applauds Maria and Chris for earning these significant scholarships. We are delighted and thankful that the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation will support these two exceptional students as they continue their educations,” said Acting President Mel D. Schiavelli.

Chen, 22, was born in Taiwan and came to the United States when he was 9 years old. In 2011, he graduated from Chantilly High School where he earned 52 credits through Advanced Placement courses. At NOVA, he serves as co-president of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. He is on track to graduate in summer 2015 with an associate degree in business administration and a 4.0 GPA.

Chen thanked a long list of NOVA professors, advisors and students for helping him through the application process. “Winning this award was truly a team effort. I could not have done it without these people’s help,” he said.

When asked how the scholarship will affect his life, Chen replied, “Words cannot describe how much this scholarship means. It is a game changer and I will be forever grateful to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and those who helped me on my journey.”

Chen has been accepted at Georgetown University and the University of Virginia, but he is waiting to hear from other universities before making a decision about where to continue his education. Wherever he goes, he will study finance to pursue his goal of becoming a fund manager so he can raise and manage funds for future students.

Originally from Paraguay, Vera Alvarez moved to the United States when she was 5 years old. She graduated from Freedom High School (South Riding) in 2013 and then enrolled at NOVA as a member of the Pathway to the Baccalaureate program which provides support to selected students beginning with the transition from high school, through NOVA and on to a university.

“NOVA’s Pathway Program provided me with access to the best advisors and it opened up the door to many volunteer opportunities on campus. There is so much support and community in that program. It has helped me build my resume and I’ve met some of my closest friends because of the Pathway connection. I don’t know what I would have done without the program,” she said.

This well-rounded 20-year-old has served as a mentor to other students and volunteered more than 300 hours throughout high school and college. Last summer, she traveled to England through a NOVA study abroad program that focused on Shakespeare and she plans to take another study abroad trip in summer 2015 to learn about Irish literature in Ireland. She also received a grant from the National Science Foundation to attend the Linguistics Field School at Swarthmore College and Haverford College to conduct research in Oaxaca, Mexico, during summer 2015.

After graduating from NOVA in May 2015 with an associate degree in science, she will transfer to Virginia Commonwealth University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in Spanish. Her long-range plan is to become a pediatrician.

“Working with children at a summer camp during high school, I realized that I really wanted to help families in whatever my future endeavors were going to be. I’ve always been fascinated by science and the human body and I’ve always had a heart for helping children. The field of pediatrics just fits perfectly into my life,” Vera Alvarez said.

Her gratitude is immeasurable. “From growing up in Asuncion, Paraguay, to trying to live the American Dream during the Great Recession in the United States, there has always been hardship involving money. I have been absolutely blessed to have received a scholarship after high school to go to NOVA. Without it, I cannot confidently say that I would be graduating from NOVA this month. The Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship means I will be closer to my goals and dreams without much worry about finances. I am still in shock that I got this second blessing.”

Chen and Vera Alvarez join a growing number of NOVA Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholars. Over the last 10 years, 12 NOVA students have been selected for Jack Kent Cooke Scholarships. Selection criteria focus on exceptional academic ability and achievements, financial need, persistence, leadership, and a desire to help others.

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About the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. By offering the largest scholarships in the country, comprehensive counseling and other support services to students from 7th grade to graduate school, the Foundation is dedicated to ensuring high-performing, low-income students have the support necessary to develop their talents and excel educationally. In addition to its scholarship programs, the Foundation provides grants for innovative, high-impact initiatives that benefit such students. By doing so, the Cooke Foundation seeks to use its resources to end the Excellence Gap, the disparity between the number of low and high income students who reach the top levels of academic performance. Founded in 2000, the Foundation has awarded $130 million in scholarships to 1,900 students and over $80 million in grants. www.jkcf.org

Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through the Extended Learning Institute. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.