Mariia Alibekova and Natasha Pineiros.

PARAMUS, N.J. – For the second consecutive year, students attending Bergen Community College will each receive $40,000 per year to continue their education as part of the largest private scholarship for community college students in the U.S.

Among only 90 students selected, Bergen’s Mariia Alibekova, of Elmwood Park, and Natasha Pineiros, of Hackensack, have earned the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship for exemplary academic performance. More than 2,600 students from 540 community colleges applied.

“By rising above their peers and earning the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, Mariia and Natasha have placed themselves in elite company among U.S. students,” Bergen President B. Kaye Walter, Ph.D., said. “For the second straight year, Bergen students have achieved a significant scholastic honor presented to very few. This scholarship plays a central role in removing cost from the transfer process – an issue of critical importance to U.S. college students.”

Last year, Bergen’s class of 2014 valedictorian, Maria De Abreu Pineda, and Ana Parra Vera received the foundation’s transfer scholarship. Both now attend Stevens Institute of Technology.

Alibekova, who will serve as the valedictorian – and top student – of the Bergen class of 2015, emigrated to the U.S. from the Ukraine in 2012. At Bergen, she became a leading member of the STEM student union, directing the group’s efforts with unmanned aerial vehicles. She also remained active with the College’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society of two-year colleges, and as a peer tutor. Alibekova plans to study chemical engineering at Colorado School of Mines, the University of Texas at Austin or Stevens Institute of Technology.

“This hasn’t sunk in yet,” she said. “This means I can go to college in the fall – I had no idea if I was going to be able to do that. Now I do.”

Pineiros, a first-generation prospective college graduate, lived in her native Ecuador until 2009. Her resume includes active membership in student government, Phi Theta Kappa, NJ STARS, the Educational Opportunity Fund and as a participant in the inaugural “summer intensive” college-readiness initiative. Anticipating a career in student affairs, Pineiros will transfer to Rutgers University or the College of New Jersey to study communication.

“You hear stories like thus from other people but you don’t think it’s going to happen to you,” she said. “This is going to follow me for the rest of my life.”

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, a private, independent foundation that supports high achieving students with financial need, has awarded $120 million in scholarships and $76 million in grants since 2000.

Based in Paramus, Bergen Community College (, a public two-year coeducational college, enrolls 16,000 students at locations in Paramus, the Philip J. Ciarco Jr. Learning Center in Hackensack and Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands in Lyndhurst. The College offers associate degree, certificate and continuing education programs in a variety of fields. More students graduate from Bergen than any other community college in the state.

# # #