Two Valencia Students Named Jack Kent Cooke Scholars, Win Life-Changing Scholarships

Two Valencia College students have been named recipients of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s prestigious Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. The highly competitive national scholarship will provide Leah Basaria and Miranda Rublaitus with up to $55,000 a year to complete their bachelor’s degrees.

Only 100 community college students receive the JKCF Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which is one of the most generous and competitive scholarships in the nation. Recipients receive up to $55,000 per year toward tuition, living expenses, books, and required fees to complete their bachelor’s degree. Additionally, Cooke Scholars are welcomed into the thriving Cooke community and network, receive one-on-one educational advising, and are eligible for internship and graduate school funding from the Foundation.

Leah Basaria

Leah Basaria of Orlando worked as a bartender for more than a decade after high school. But after the suicides of two close family members, she decided to earn a degree in psychology and pursue a career in the mental health field. At Valencia College, Leah became a teaching assistant and a peer mentor, while also volunteering as a grief facilitator at the nonprofit New Hope for Kids.  A graduate of Valencia’s Seneff Honors College, Leah was also named the college’s Distinguished Graduate for 2022. She plans to attend the University of Central Florida and earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology before heading to graduate school.

Miranda Rublaitus did not attend college immediately after graduating from high school in Louisiana, because she could not qualify for financial aid. Instead, she channeled her dreams of becoming a veterinarian into a career in the pet industry. But in 2020, after 19 years away from the classroom, she pushed aside her fears and started classes at Valencia College, where she excelled. Miranda served as SGA president at the college’s Osceola Campus, conducted undergraduate research and graduated in May with distinction from Valencia’s Seneff Honors College. Miranda wants to pursue a career in data science for public policy and is considering a number of colleges, including Columbia University, Georgetown University and Yale University’s Eli Whitney Students Program.

Miranda Rublaitus

In the 2020-21 academic year, four-year colleges and universities saw nearly 200,000 fewer transfer enrollment applications nationwide, reflecting the pandemic’s disruptive effect on students and their plans for college. Despite that decline, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation welcomed its largest class of Scholars to date, highlighting the talent and achievement of hundreds of community college students across the country. In light of growing financial hardship for so many families, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation also increased the maximum award amount by an extra $15,000 to ensure students can focus on their studies while enrolled.

“Today, almost half of all college students begin their academic career at a community college. We know our community colleges are full of high-achieving students, and we’re committed to playing our part to ensure those students succeed,” said Seppy Basili, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. “Congratulations to a cohort of students who have persisted in the midst of such unprecedented disruptions in our lives. We welcome you into our community and look forward to learning alongside you.”

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. Along with financial support, Scholars will additionally receive opportunities for internships, study abroad, and graduate school funding, as well as connection to a thriving network of over nearly 3,000 Cooke Scholars and Alumni.

This year, more than 1,200 students from 332 community colleges applied to receive the Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. The Foundation evaluated each submission based on students’ academic ability and achievement, financial need, persistence, and leadership.

A list of this year’s Cooke Transfer Scholars, their community colleges, and their hometowns can be found here.