For the second year in a row – and marking the third time in four years – a Santa Monica College student has been awarded a prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation (JKCF) Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, the nation’s largest private scholarship for community college transfer students.
This year’s recipient, Siamak Khakshoor-Kohan, is one of 85 students chosen from 3,705 students from 737 community colleges. The award follows last year’s JKCF scholarship given to SMC student Scott Pine, and comes three years after Stephen Olsen became the first student in SMC history to receive the award.
JKCF winners – chosen by a highly respected selection committee of 18 admissions professionals, mostly from selective four-year institutions – receive up to $30,000 a year for up to three years to complete their Bachelor’s degree at accredited four-year colleges or universities.
“The Jack Kent Cooke award will allow Siamak to realize his dream of becoming a caring physician for those in need,” said SMC President Dr. Chui L. Tsang. “His success is one that mirrors what America is about: hard work and opportunity.”
JKCF Scholarship winners are chosen for their “high academic ability and achievements, financial need, persistence, leadership, and a desire to help others,” according to the Foundation, which was started in 2000.
A pre-med student at SMC, Khakshoor-Kohan is one of four children raised by Jewish immigrants from Iran. “As I see them working every day of the week to save for our future, my parents are still an inspiration to me,” says Khakshoor-Kohan. “They taught me the importance of leading an honorable life centered on higher education and service to society.”
Khakshoor-Kohan is familiar with the idea of embarking on a career in healthcare. His older sister is a dentist, his brother is a radiology resident, and his younger sister is currently working on her Master’s degree in biomedical sciences.
“The vision of one day healing my own patients because of higher education now beckons me to pursue my own path in healthcare,” says Khakshoor-Kohan. “My family’s humble immigrant background has helped me to have greater understanding and compassion for patients of diverse backgrounds.”
SMC Life Sciences Professor Mary Colavito, along with SMC’s environmental education program Sustainable Works consultant Kaya Foster, recommended Khakshoor-Kohan for the scholarship. “Siamak has the essential combination of motivation, intellectual curiosity, and compassion to reach his goal of a career in the medical field,” said Colavito, who by coincidence has also been an instructor for all three of Khakshoor-Kohan’s siblings.
Khakshoor-Kohan is a longtime healthcare volunteer and – through the honor society Alpha Gamma Sigma – has been the recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award from the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, established in 2003 to recognize the valuable contributions volunteers are making in the nation’s communities, and to encourage more people to serve.
“When I was in high school, I was a volunteer at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood and worked as a patient escort,” says Khakshoor-Kohan. “One day, my friend and I were helping discharge an elderly lady in chronic pain. She pointed to a window and said, ‘That’s a good place to jump.’ We were speechless, but that’s when I realized how important it was to connect and communicate with patients on a personal level.”
For the past six months, Khakshoor-Kohan has been a volunteer at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, where his attention is focused on supporting nurses caring for ICU patients.
Khakshoor-Kohan, a member of SMC’s academically rigorous Scholars Program, has been accepted as a transfer student from SMC to UC Santa Barbara, and is still waiting to hear from UCLA, University of Southern California (USC), and Stanford University. “I still haven’t made up my mind about where I want to continue my studies,” he says.
Although his long-term ambition is to become a physician, Khakshoor-Kohan says, “I cherish every blessing along my journey of learning and growth, and embrace every opportunity with open arms and a view to excellence. I’ve been active – first as a student and now as a workshop leader – with Sustainable Works. One of the things that made me interested in participating was finding out that it takes about 4,000,000 gallons of water to produce one ton of beef! I have to admit that I was really shocked about that, but the whole thing has been an elevating experience, encouraging me to be a role model of higher learning, personal excellence, and service to society. I have always longed to improve the world through higher knowledge and understanding.”
SMC Transfer Center Faculty Leader Dan Nannini said – in tribute to both Siamak and Cooke, who once owned the Los Angeles Lakers (NBA) and Los Angeles Kings (NHL) – “It’s nice to know that money I spent going to Kings and Laker games in the 70s is going to deserving students like Siamak today.” Nannini also serves as President of the Western Association for College Admission Counseling (WACAC) and is SMC’s faculty liaison with the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
Scholarship amounts vary based on several factors, including costs at the college or university the student attends, as well as other grants and scholarships the student receives.
Scholarship recipients can pursue any area of study, and can use the award to pay for tuition, required fees, books, and room and board. Recipients also benefit by gaining access to the greater JKCF Scholar community.
“The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has long been committed to helping outstanding community college students transfer to and succeed at the nation’s top colleges and universities,” said Emily Froimson, vice president of programs at the Foundation. “Since the program started in 2002, the Foundation has supported 643 community college students directly, and thousands more through the Foundation’s grant-making initiatives.”