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Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Awards Prestigious Scholarship to Renita Johnson '17

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation announced Tuesday (April 10) that Renita Johnson, a December 2017 SUNY Orange graduate, is one of 47 students nationally selected to receive its prestigious and highly competitive Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which will provide her with up to $40,000 annually for a maximum of three years to complete her bachelor’s degree.

Johnson, who becomes the first SUNY Orange student ever to receive a Cooke Foundation scholarship, learned of her selection on Tuesday while attending a luncheon in Albany in which she was among 247 State University of New York students being presented with the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, the highest honor bestowed upon community college students within the state.

“I feel deeply honored, and humbled to have been awarded this scholarship, and am still trying to comprehend the fact that I have received this award,” Johnson said. “This scholarship will allow me to pursue educational opportunities that I would not have thought possible, and I am thrilled to be a part of the amazing Jack Kent Cooke Foundation community. I am certain that I would not have gotten to this point today without the support and encouragement of so many different professors, faculty and mentors. I am truly grateful to everyone at SUNY Orange who has been a part of my journey.”

Johnson plans to utilize the Cooke Foundation scholarship to begin her bachelor’s degree studies this Fall. She is still deciding upon which four-year institution to attend, but expects to major in biology with a minor in neuroscience.

“My dream is to one day work with the organization ‘Doctors without Borders’ as a medical practitioner, either a physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner or doctor,” she adds. “I'm not exactly sure which one at this point, but it has always been my dream to work abroad in the medical field.”

Tuesday’s announcement continues a run of “firsts” for the Montgomery resident, who moved to the area from upstate New York in order to attend SUNY Orange. In March 2017, she became the first SUNY Orange student to be named to the Phi Theta Kappa All New York Academic Team first team. She was also a member of Colts’ first-ever women’s cross country team in 2016 and helped guide the squad to the Division III national junior college championship meet. She was named to the Mid-Hudson all-conference cross country team in 2016 and 2017.

She graduated in May 2017 with a liberal arts degree (concentration in biology) and followed that by earning her nursing degree from SUNY Orange this past December. She was the student speaker at the College’s May 2017 Commencement ceremony. In addition, Johnson was president of the College’s Phi Theta Kappa chapter, served as a student senator, sat alongside faculty and staff on three of the College’s Shared Governance committees (Athletic Advisory, Finance, and Academic Assessment).

As a peer mentor for the College’s TRIO program, she worked one-on-one with at-risk students to assist them in their academic progress so they could remain on track to successfully complete their degree. She is presently working as a registered nurse until she returns to the classroom this Fall. 

“I first met Renita during the Fall of 2016 when she joined the College Board of Trustees’ task force on residence halls.  She quickly caught my attention for her ability to make relevant, respectful and confident, but unassuming, contributions to a room full of administrators, Trustees, Foundation Board members and county legislators.” said SUNY Orange President Dr. Kristine Young. “From there, I saw her everywhere; volunteering at events, serving on Student Senate, mentoring her peers and competing in the inaugural year of our women’s cross country program.

“Renita exemplifies all that is great about community college students,” Young added. “She is genuinely kind and intellectually adept, but I’ve been inspired by watching her gain confidence and take such joy in learning, growing and experiencing all that college life has to offer. I know she is humbled by this award, but I also know she is destined for greater achievements in her future.”

In addition to the monetary award, the 47 new Cooke Transfer Scholars will receive comprehensive educational advising from foundation staff to guide them through the processes of transitioning to a four-year school and preparing for their careers. The foundation will additionally provide opportunities for internships, study abroad, and graduate school funding, as well as connection to a thriving network of 2,300 fellow Cooke Scholars and alumni.

“Community colleges provide an affordable first step for many students with financial need to begin their higher education journey,” said Harold O. Levy, executive director of the Cooke Foundation. “Cooke Transfer Scholars have demonstrated incredible ability and ambition, and we look forward to supporting their success at universities such as Stanford, Cornell and MIT.”

This year, nearly 2,500 students applied for the Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. The foundation evaluated each submission based on academic ability, persistence, leadership and service to others. The recipients selected have a median adjusted gross income of $5,000 and an average GPA of 3.92. Biological sciences, engineering and computer/informational sciences are the most popular fields of study among the cohort.

A full list of the 2018 Cooke Transfer Scholars, including the community colleges and states they represent, can be viewed here.

The Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. Since 2000, the foundation has awarded $175 million in scholarships to more than 2,300 students from 8th grade through graduate school, along with comprehensive counseling and other support services. The foundation ( has also provided more than $97 million in grants to organizations that serve such students.

Mike Albright