THE BLOG
12/05/2014 03:16 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2015

Community College Students Now Have Access to $200,000 Scholarship for Graduate School

When I found out I won the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship in 2007, I fell weak in the knees. The president of Seminole State College of Florida had just surprised me with the announcement - that I was the recipient of a scholarship that would provide me with up to $30,000 per year for my bachelor's degree and the opportunity to get $50,000 for graduate school. What brought me to my knees was the sheer force of this running tape in my head being broken: "People like me don't get master's degrees."

Until then I honestly hadn't seen myself as someone who would go to graduate school. If you had asked me, I would have said "of course I can go to graduate school...this is America, I could be president!" Yet how deep that sentiment goes is not always what it appears.

Somewhere I had internalized that graduate school was for "other" people - rich people, smart people. Not for people like me, a biracial Latina who did "okay" on her SAT and whose parents didn't have bachelor's degrees.

What the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation did for me had a lot to do with money, but had much more to do with confidence. They invested in me, and in turn, made me believe that maybe I could be more than I ever thought possible. Maybe "people like me" were worthy of graduate school, and more.

That story is why I am so thrilled to share that that the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has now increased it's one time graduate award of $50,000 to an award of up to $50,000 each year for up to four years, making the total potential graduate award now $200,000.

That award no longer applies to me (since I already used the $50,000 for an M.Ed), but my elation is as strong as if it did. Because I know now that current and future Jack Kent Cooke undergraduate scholars, including the transfer scholars who come from community colleges, will have the opportunity to pursue higher education in ways they could have never dreamed.

Money is a huge barrier for community college students, and in more ways than just the practical. Sometimes, when you don't have money for something, it can create a tape inside your head that says you're not worthy. It's not logical, but it happens.

This new graduate award will be available to all Jack Kent Cooke undergraduate scholars, but I can't help but be especially excited that the undergraduate transfer scholars will have access to such a significant graduate award, since so few dollars go to community college students, an often ignored yet incredibly worthy group.

For many community college students, it's already a big deal for them to be the first in their family to even attend college - imagine how significant it feels when they're then the first in their family to go on to get a master's degree, a law degree, a medical degree, a doctoral degree. It's life changing.

It also starts to shift the whole story. My hope is that this scholarship will continue to flood graduate schools with greater diversity so that the next generation won't ever have to wonder if "people like me" are worthy of graduate school. They'll think this article makes no sense and won't understand why I ever felt this way, because of course people like them can go to graduate school. That's the goal. And organizations like The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation are playing a central part in making that goal a reality.

To learn more visit JKCF.org.