Pearl River students awarded prestigious community college transfer scholarship

Published 2:20 pm Tuesday, May 11, 2021

POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Three Pearl River Community College students were recently selected as Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship award winners. This year’s PRCC winners are Riley Cleveland, Quindalin Harper and Kyle Simpson. They are three of 72 recipients nationally.

The JKC scholarship is a highly selective scholarship for the nation’s top community college students seeking to complete their bachelor’s degrees at four-year colleges or universities. Each scholar has access to financial support, college planning support, ongoing advising and the opportunity to connect with a community of fellow scholars.

“I’m ecstatic for all of you,” PRCC President Dr. Adam Breerwood said to the students via a video call announcing their achievement. “This is life changing and every day we want to set out live changing opportunities for you and you’ve taken advantage of that so just know how proud we are of you.

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“We expect big things for each one of you.”

The Foundation provides up to $40,000 per year to scholarship recipients for up to three years, making it among the large private scholarships for community college transfer students in the country.

This is the first time in PRCC’s history that the institution has had multiple winners at one time. It is also the first time the college has experienced winners two years in a row.

“We are here to serve all of you,” Breerwood said. “You are the reason we get up in the morning, for moments like this.”

“This has been an awesome experience,” Cleveland said. “I felt prepared to turn in this application because of Pearl River and all of the professors that have helped me. I’m just so appreciative of this experience and this process.”

Riley Cleveland is a native of Hattiesburg where she attended Oak Grove High School.  Since joining the Wildcat Family she has been a part of many great organizations. As of her sophomore year, she serves as the President of the William Lewis Honors College at the Forrest County Campus and the Vice President of Service for Beta Tau Gamma chapter of Phi Theta Kappa. During her time at the River she has received the Vice-Presidential Scholarship, the Coca Cola Leaders of Promise Scholarship, All-USA Academic Team Winner and now Jack Kent Cooke Semifinalist. Cleveland was named the Most Distinguished Chapter Officer for Beta Tau Gamma and she was also the Freshman and Sophomore Maid for the FCC. She was also voted Freshmen Class Favorite. Cleveland has been involved in the William Lewis Honors Research Symposiums where she received third place locally and second place regionally with her presentation titled “Corporal Punishment: Classroom Management or Mental Abuse?”

“I believe that a moment that I will take away from PRCC is getting to work as a Vice President of Service for the College Project Committee and just getting to learn and grow in the process,” Cleveland said. “Serving others has really defined what I’ll be doing in the future. Just by teaming up with other people, collaborating with others. That’s what you do as a teacher. You really take other people’s minds and thoughts and collectively come up with a way to produce creativity and knowledge for others.”

After graduating from Pearl River with her Associates degree this spring, she plans to transfer to Mississippi State University online to obtain her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she hopes to get a job being a kindergarten teacher in either a public or private school system. In the future, she may continue her education by going for her Master’s degree.

“PRCC gave me the confidence to be able to for things that I wanted,” Harper said “It allowed me to feel like I was capable in order to become a better me. Financially a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. The air is just a lot clearer now.”

Quindalin Harper is from Bassfield where he attended Jefferson Davis County High School. After joining the Wildcat Family he made a point to involve himself in many on campus organizations and activities. Harper is currently a part of the Student Government Association and the Dr. William Lewis Honors Institute. He is also the Phi Theta Kappa Vice President of Planning and logistics. Harper is a Student Peer Leader for The Office of Student Success and Get2College Corp.

“If I had never had these opportunities at PRCC I would never have been able to grow and find the confidence to say, ‘sometimes I’m going to fall and sometimes I’m going to win’ and that’s okay.”

Harper has received an Honors Developmental Scholarship and competed in the Honors Research Symposium. After graduating from Pearl River this spring, he plans on transferring to the University of Mississippi and majoring in Psychology with a minor in Neuroscience. Long term, he plans to pursue his doctorate degree and endeavors to work in the field of Psychiatry.

“This has changed my life,” Simpson said. “I was accepted into the University of Michigan but because of out-of-state tuition fees, even with the generous grant they offered me, I wasn’t going to be able to go. This is easily the best news I’ve ever gotten in my life and I really appreciate everything that everyone that I’ve worked with at PRCC has done for me, especially the Ruckels. I am going to be a voice that represents PRCC for the rest of my life.”

Kyle Simpson, 30, was born in Orlando, Florida, though they have spent most of their life in Mississippi. They attended Palm Bay High School in Melbourne, Florida; however, they were withdrawn from tenth grade due to familial stressors. Kyle spent most of their twenties working full-time and independently studying the social sciences. During their time at PRCC (Spring 2018-Fall 2019), they have become a member of PRCC Forrest County Center’s William Lewis Honors College, Phi Theta Kappa chapter—Beta Tau Gamma, Mu Alpha Theta chapter, Sigma Kappa Delta chapter, as well as participated in the campus’ History and Humanities, and Travel clubs. In addition to their involvement on campus, Kyle also had the honor of representing PRCC as a member of the International Scholar Laureate Program’s Delegation on Medicine and Science to China during the summer of 2019. Kyle received their Associate of Arts degree with High Honors in December 2019 from PRCC; during their time at PRCC they won both the History and Fine Arts Student of the Year awards and earned two academic publications.

“My first semester at PRCC was pretty transformative for me,” Simpson said. “I was going on 28 about 10 years older than anyone else there. It was intimidating for me to enter a space I hadn’t been in in a long time. I am a 10th grade dropout; I’ve come a long way. I had to learn a lot of things on my own but coming to PRCC really heightened my ability to do good research to trust myself and trust other people. The uplifting nature of the faculty and the staff, it’s like family and it’s really wonderful and I’ve come away with a lot.”

Kyle plans to major in psychology upon transfer to university, where they intend to conduct research concerning poverty’s effect on the ability of individuals and cultural cohort groups to process trauma and grief productively. They plan on ultimately achieving a PhD in counseling psychology with an emphasis on grief counseling and poverty studies; their top three choices for transfer are Amherst College, Stanford University, and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor—which they have been admitted to. Post-academia, Kyle plans to work on synthesizing emotional health initiatives with economic justice initiatives, locally, nationally, and globally.

“We know how much exponentially harder this past year has been on students. It’s an honor to award this group of individuals as they have achieved so much both in the classroom and in their daily lives,” Executive Director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Seppy Basili said. “We are proud to welcome this new class of Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholars to our community and are excited to support them as they transition to four-year institutions.”

Today, nearly half of the students pursuing college choose to attend two-year institutions. Research commissioned by the Foundation found that 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. Yet, at the nation’s top colleges, only five percent have transferred from a community college. The Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship seeks to increase the number of community college students completing their education at top four-year institutions.

In addition to financial support, new Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholars will receive comprehensive educational advising to guide them through the process of transitioning to a four-year college and preparing for their careers. Scholars will additionally receive opportunities for internships, study abroad, and graduate school funding, as well as connection to a thriving network of Cooke Scholars and Alumni.

To date, more than 1,000 students from all over the country have received the Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. Over 1,300  students from 398 community colleges applied for the 2021 Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. The Foundation evaluated each submission based on students’ academic ability and achievement, financial need, persistence, leadership, and service to others.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. Since 2000, the Foundation has awarded over $222 million in scholarships to over 2,800 students from 8th grade through graduate school, along with comprehensive educational advising and other support services. The Foundation has also provided $115 million in grants to organizations that serve such students.

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