Founded in 2001, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation was established to “advan[ce] the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need.”
This year, four Hornets are up against 600 other students from across the nation, with a projected 60 to be awarded. Finalists can be awarded up to $40,000 per year to cover tuition, living expenses, books and other fees.
Russell Hillabrand, a Supplemental Instruction tutor on campus, meets the Foundation’s criteria for exceptionalism. Having already completed four associate degree programs in philosophy, geography, religious studies and political science, the tutor is now on track to complete his fifth in economics.
“I can’t even imagine,” Hillabrand said when asked how it would feel to win the competition.
As a one-time recipient of assistance from the on-campus food bank, Hillabrand is excited to be a semi-finalist. “I moved here from Death Valley on my own and it’s been hard [financially] ever since.”
Hillenbrand started the philosophy club on campus three years ago and currently tutors in American Government and Philosophy 100. He does this all while also training other S.I. tutors to reach the same level of excellence he’s achieved.
If awarded the funds, he hopes to transfer to Pomona College to receive his Bachelor of Arts in politics and economics before going on to achieve his Ph.D in philosophy.
“I want to make philosophy accessible to people,” he explained.
There are up to eight different awards the Foundation gives out yearly, with several other grant programs established to support “exceptional students from elementary school to graduate school through scholarships, grants, direct service, and knowledge creation and dissemination.”
Marissa Davisson, also a S.I. instructor, has been named a semi-finalist as well.
She is “honored” to have been named. A psychology major herself, Davisson works about ten hours a week as a S.I. instructor and encourages students to reach their full potential.
A mother of a 5-year-old son, the semi-finalist has been buried in medical bills and student loan debt for years.
She has hopes to transfer to UC Irvine to continue her studies in psychology.
Due to her dedication to her education, she’s had to cut back on her hours at the tutoring center. This has resulted in a cut in her pay, which is stretching her budget thinner every day.
“It would change the course of my life,” Davisson explained about the possibility of winning the competition.
According to Hillabrand, the Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship Program encourages community college students to strive for acceptance into elite universities.
The application process requires the submission of basic information, academic records, financial records and personal essays detailing the student’s college experience and a basic autobiography.
To apply, students must have achieved at least Sophomore status in the community college system, a GPA of 3.5 or higher and proof of financial eligibility.
For specific selection, applicants have to demonstrate persistence, leadership, service to others and high academic ability and achievement.
Hillabrand and Davisson, as well as two other FC students Scott Begneski and Michael To, have gone above and beyond the established criteria.
Applications will be reviewed from November through March and the finalists will be named in April.