Amira Cooper knew before graduating from Hammond High School in 2019 that her plan was to attend Howard Community College.
As a James W. Rouse Scholar, an honors program at the community college, she knew her two years there would prepare her for her last two years at a four-year institution.
Cooper, of Laurel, is one of 72 recipients of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, a national scholarship for community college students.
Those awarded receive up to $40,000 per year for two years to complete their bachelor’s degree at a four-year school, according to a news release.
Cooper, 20, will graduate Thursday from Howard Community College with an associate of arts degree in general studies and plans to attend the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in the fall.
She said it means a great deal to her to be awarded the scholarship and it will be a big help as she pursues her bachelor’s degree in English and secondary education.
“The scholarship will help me take a breath of fresh air and take some weight off of my shoulders,” Cooper said. “It’s a nice, relieving feeling that I don’t have to worry about college expenses. I can just go to school and get my degree and enjoy college life to its fullest without that worry, and I’m just really happy that I get to experience that.”
To date, more than 1,000 students from all over the country have received the Cooke scholarship; more than 1,300 students from 398 community colleges applied for the 2021 scholarship.
Today, nearly half of students pursuing college choose to attend two-year institutions, according to the release.
Community college students who transfer to selective institutions have equal to or higher graduation rates as students who enrolled directly from high school or transferred from four-year institutions, according to the Cooke Foundation. However, at the nation’s top colleges, only 5% have transferred from a community college.
The aim of the scholarship is to increase the number of community college students completing their education at top four-year institutions.
Cooper said she chose to attend Howard Community College because she wanted to be prepared when it came time for her to transfer to a four-year institution.
One of the ways the college prepared her for that transition was by assisting her with her application for the scholarship.
Matthew Van Hoose, executive director of academic engagement at Howard Community College, worked with Cooper this past year as she completed her capstone project, which used embroidery and interviews to explore how racial and ethnic groups are underrepresented and misrepresented in popular culture.
Van Hoose described Cooper’s project as “compelling” and “inspiring” and said it was a privilege to watch it unfold.
He said he hopes the scholarship will help her develop as she continues her education at UMBC.
“[The scholarship] is a whole set of opportunities that have been presented to her in relation to how she’ll continue her studies and continue developing academically and professionally as she transitions to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County,” Van Hoose said. “I know that she is going to capitalize on these opportunities to the greatest extent possible, and I know that they’re going to help her do the great things that she was already bound to do when we first met.”
Renée Richardson served as a counselor to Cooper during her time at Howard Community College.
She described Cooper as “driven” and “goal-oriented” and hopes the scholarship will push her closer toward her goals.
“[Cooper] is academically talented and well-deserving of this opportunity,” Richardson said.
Brandon Bellamy, associate director of student support services and transfer and graduation counselor at Howard Community College, met Cooper through a virtual information session on the scholarship.
After reading over parts of her application, he said he was able to get a better sense of her academic goals.
“[Cooper] is a resilient and creative student, and I really can’t wait for the world to see the work that she does,” Bellamy said.
Looking back on her time at Howard Community College, Cooper said she received a great deal of support and is looking forward to attending UMBC.
“UMBC has been one of my [top] choices and the fact that I got in and that I’m going excites me,” she said. “I’m really excited to be a part of that community and to meet new people and experience what it’s like on a college campus at a four-year university.”