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2 Grads Receive Nation’s Premier Transfer Scholarships

Jonathan Finnerty and Fizza Sulaiman are living examples of the power of persistence. They did not start out as great students at Middlesex County College. But boy, they’ve made up for it ever since. So much so that the duo just received the largest and most prestigious transfer scholarship in the nation. Mr. Finnerty and Ms. Sulaiman were each awarded a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. It covers up to $40,000 per year as they transfer on to four-year universities.

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From left: College President Joann La Perla-Morales; Mark McCormick, vice president for academic and student affairs; Fizza Sulaiman and Jonathan Finnerty, Jack Kent Cooke scholars; and Gina Bedoya and Sheema Majiduddin, MCC counselors who advise the program on campus.

Gina Bedoya, a counselor who works with Cooke applicants, said the award covers tuition, fees, books and living expenses.
“It truly is life-changing,” she said.

Mr. Finnerty started at MCC in 2007 but quickly decided that college wasn’t for him. Ms. Sulaiman arrived in 1999 and did not do well.
But both came back with a vengeance.

Mr. Finnerty is a member of the Metuchen Fire Department; Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year colleges; and Quo Vadis, the student newspaper.

“Quo Vadis is where I first got my start writing and interviewing,” he said. “It gave me a chance to express myself.” It also allowed him to get to know his professors outside of class.

He is grateful for the scholarship, which will allow him to attend either Rutgers or Columbia University to study philosophy and classical history.

“This wouldn’t have happened without the support of my mentors,” he said. “Look at any great person throughout history and you realize they really weren’t an individual, they had a large support base. Middlesex provided that for me. Each professor I’ve had has changed some aspect of my thinking.” He highlighted Professors John Roskoski, Saul Kelton and Emanuel di Pasquale as especially influential.

Ms. Sulaiman left MCC in 2003 but came back determined to succeed.

“Education is the only way up,” she said. “I was focused. My time management skills, my study skills – everything changed.”

When she received a scholarship from the MCC Foundation, she became even more determined.

“I can’t let them down. They trusted me,” she said.

She felt the small class size and personal attention she received from her professors were the keys to her success.

“For me it was the professors,” she said. “If they had to stay an extra two hours just to help me understand something, they were willing to do that.”

She named Professors George Pangalos, Donna-Marie Gardner and Erin Christensen as mentors.

Ms. Sulaiman, a biology major, is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the North Brunswick First Aid and Rescue Squad, as well as Democracy House, the College’s service-learning program. She is planning to attend either Columbia University or the University of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Finnerty and Ms. Sulaiman are the third and fourth Jack Kent Cooke scholars in MCC history. Namema Amendi was awarded the scholarship in 2007 and graduated from Columbia University, and Zizhou Zhao received it in 2010 and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley.

The Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship program begin in 2002, and is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. This year, 90 students were selected from 2,061 applications.

“We’re so proud of them,” said College President Joann La Perla-Morales. “Students who graduate from a community college and go on to a four-year college are going to be successful, because they’ve learned how to be a student and how to succeed.”