By Katie McFarland
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire
Twenty-eight-year-old Rachel Breman said she was completely shocked when her “shot in the dark” application turned into a possible $50,000 graduate studies scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke foundation.
She was at the mall when she found out she was a finalist via cell phone.
“It was loud in the mall and all I heard was ‘Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’ and I almost fell,” she said. “Then they called a week later to say that I had been accepted and I had been on pins and needles until then.”
Jack Kent Cooke, a high school dropout who went on to become one of the most successful sports franchise owners, upon his death, left $500 million to establish the most generous scholarship fund in the nation.
Before his death in April 1997, Cooke built a media empire, owned the Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Redskins and New York’s Chrysler Building - an amazing feat for a man who sold encyclopedias during the depression, said Matthew Quinn, the foundation’s executive director.
About 1,400 applications, from graduate and undergraduate students, poured into the foundation mailbox during its inaugural year for almost $5 million in scholarships.
Cooke was a “whiz of a businessman” but he regretted never having a formal education, which is why he created the provision in his will, Quinn said.
“He was a very generous man in that regard,” Quinn said. “He could have done anything with his money. Anything. But he choose to better the lives of other people with this foundation.”
Among the scholarships available, students from junior high through graduate school can apply based on financial need and academic achievement, Quinn said.
The foundation awards up to 50 graduate scholarships, as much as $50,000 each, for use during the 2003-2004 academic year. Each award funds tuition, room and board, fees and books for up to six years of graduate study.
The application, about 13 pages all together, plus a personal essay, was worth the work, Breman said. After receiving her first bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies, Breman traveled with the Peace Corps to Niger in West Africa where she found her calling. She said she always wanted to work in nursing, but dreaded math and science courses.
“After the Peace Corps, I thought, ‘If people can live through this, then I can make it through five science classes,’” she said.
Now attending the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, Breman said the foundation’s flexibility allows her to gain real-life experience as a floor nurse in labor and delivery while she studies.
Graduate recipients like Breman, may attend any accredited school at home or abroad to pursue any degree, but to apply, they must be college seniors and residents of Virginia, Maryland or Washington D.C.
Along with academic achievements, students who apply also will be evaluated on their will to succeed, appreciation for arts and humanities, critical thinking skills and, of course, financial need.
Undergraduates - four-year college students and two-year college students planning to transfer - can get the same across-the-board scholarship, up to $30,000.
Valedictorian of her high school class, 20-year-old Jessica Lipschultz became a Cooke scholar last fall.
Lipschultz, studying at the University of Idaho, said she has her eye on a public service career.
“I was honored to learn that I had received an undergraduate scholarship,” she said. “Not only is the scholarship financially generous, but it is one of the only major scholarships that recognizes the importance of both academic achievement and civic engagement.”
Since receiving the scholarship, Lipschultz said her goals have broadened to include going to Israel to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and traveling to a third-world country to volunteer through the WorldTeach program.
“The scholarship has reaffirmed the values that I live my life by,” Lipschultz said.
The foundation also supplies students entering the 8th grade with an extended scholarship and a fourth scholarship awards student dependents of people killed or disabled in Sept. 11 attacks and the anthrax attacks.
Quinn said Cooke would consider the scholarships a “birthday present” to the country, to give financially strapped students with a desire to learn, like Breman, the chance they deserve.
“The amount of debt that I won’t be incurring is amazing,” Breman said. “They help me pay everything. This is just a dream come true in so many ways.”
Further information about applicant requirements and deadlines is available at www.jackkentcookefoundation.org.