Individual photos of each student merged together in one photo.

The SDCCD’s semifinalists for the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship: Husna Ayoubi, Nick Lazaris, James Nguyen, Namod Pallek Kankanamge, and Grace Perez.

5 SDCCD students named semifinalists for prestigious transfer scholarship program

March 22, 2024 | San Diego Community College District

Five students at San Diego City, San Diego Mesa and San Diego Miramar colleges have been named as semifinalists for the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship that provides a tuition-free pathway to a four-year degree at a college or university of their choice.

Nick Lazaris and Grace Perez of City College, Husna Ayoubi of Mesa College, and James Nguyen and Namod Pallek Kankanamge of Miramar College are the latest of numerous San Diego Community College District students who have been named national semifinalists over the years. The most recent five were selected from more than 1,600 applicants attending 194 community colleges in 37 states, Washington, D.C., and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The award, which covers unfunded institutional aid, can reach as much as $55,000 each year by financing all or a portion of educational costs, including tuition, room and board, books and required fees. Finalists for the Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship will be announced in May.

Meet this year’s SDCCD’s national semifinalists for the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship:

Nick Lazaris

Nick Lazaris is aiming to transfer to UC San Diego and ultimately earn a Ph.D. in clinical psychology to engage in research, open his own practice and one day teach psychology at the college level. Originally from Wisconsin, Lazaris is a member of Psi Beta, the community college national honor society in psychology. He earned a 2023 Psi Beta Research Award and Anne Anastasi Scholarship and is part of the honor society’s research team. Being named a national semifinalist brought him joy and validation. “It means that after reading about my accomplishments and goals, people who read through thousands of applications saw mine as worth notice. It means that what I am doing matters in a real way.”

Grace Perez

Grace Perez is majoring in both theatre and musical theatre at City College and is intent on transferring to San Diego State University for a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts. “I initially wanted to teach at the community college level but recently switched my goals; I would love to teach visual and performing arts in K through 12 within the San Diego Unified School District,” said Perez, a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. Perez is honored to have been named a national semifinalist. “Even if I’m not selected for the scholarship, being a semifinalist affirms for me that I’m on the right track, I’m doing the right things, and I’m getting rewarded for my hard work.”

Husna Ayoubi

Husna Ayoubi of Mesa College is majoring in cognitive science, she has already finished the Medical Assistant Program and recently completed a medical assistant externship at the Palm Care Cardiology Urgent Care Center in El Cajon. From Afghanistan, Ayoubi speaks five languages and volunteers extensively on campus and in the community. Among her notable achievements, Ayoubi has served as an interpreter at Fort Bliss, Texas, Afghan refugee camp clinic and also has tutored English language learners in the Cajon Valley Union School District. As a Mesa College Associated Student Government student senator, Ayoubi implemented the campus’s first Teacher Appreciation and Recognition week celebrating and honoring Mesa College faculty and their continuous commitment to excellence.

Namod Pallek Kankanamge

Namod Pallek Kankanamge is a Miramar College standout who has served as student body president and student trustee on the SDCCD Board of Trustees. He describes himself as a passionate, first-generation student committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. “I grew up in Sri Lanka in a family of nine. When I first moved to the United States, attending college was only a dream – ‘The American Dream,’” said Pallak, who serves as a campus career ambassador. “Coming from underrepresented communities, I faced many adversities in my educational journey, from discrimination to living on the street. I decided to major in pre-law political science to become an advocate and make changes that will help more students like me.”

James Nguyen

James Nguyen is a Miramar College scholar on track to earn an associate of science degree in earth science studies. He participated in the NASA Proposal Writing and Evaluation Experience Academy, serves in a City of San Diego internship program and volunteers at the San Diego Library. He wrote on his Linkedin profile that his overarching objective is to ensure freedom of mobility for Americans, transcending barriers of race, income and, notably, automobile ownership. “I am determined to explore opportunities that will allow me to combine my skills and interests and make a meaningful impact in the American way of life.”

Seppy Basili, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s executive director, issued a statement praising all of this year’s national semifinalists. “In light of the challenges that hinder many community college students from achieving their goal of earning a bachelor’s degree, our Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship makes the journey more achievable and helps to eliminate the threat of student debt. The exceptional pool of talent among this year’s chosen semifinalists from community colleges showcases the vast potential within these institutions and we look forward to learning more about these students during the final stage of our application review.” 

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