Bertila Bruka, Eduardo Hernandez, Dahyun (Crystal) Yoo, and Leslie Yuqui.
PARAMUS, N.J. – Following in the footsteps of 16 Bergen Community College alumni, four class of 2022 graduates have earned the most prestigious honor for junior college students – the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Scholarship. The award provides up to $55,000 per year for each student to complete a bachelor’s degree. Graduates Bertila Bruka, Eduardo Hernandez, Dahyun (Crystal) Yoo, and Leslie Yuqui learned they became the latest Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Scholars last month. Only 100 U.S. students secured the highly competitive scholarship.
“These students have worked so diligently to achieve their dreams and we could not be prouder of them,” Phi Theta Kappa and Honors Coordinator Anna Gergen said. “Watching them grow by engaging with the JKW School of Honors and the Phi Theta Kappa honor society has been a true privilege, and we look forward to seeing how far they will go with the accolades and experiences they have accumulated.”
Bruka, of Leonia, a natural sciences and mathematics honors student, has distinguished herself as a STEM leader at the College. As a member and director Bergen’s PTK honor society with a 4.0 GPA, she plans to study biomedical engineering and pursue a career in cardiothoracic surgery. Her brother, Bekim, earned the scholarship last year after graduating from Bergen and now studies at Columbia University.
“As a JKC Scholar, I feel incredibly honored to have the chance to represent immigrants, women scholars and women in STEM as we navigate our identities, reach for our dreams, and pursue our passions,” she said.
Hernandez, of North Bergen, an information technology honors student, participated in clubs such as the Latin American Student Association and worked as a writing and ESL tutor. Born and raised in El Salvador, Hernandez moved to the United States in 2017 with career goals of working as a security engineer in technology and teaching computer science as a college professor. As an ESL volunteer instructor in his town, Hernandez has a strong commitment to community and plans to create a foundation to help recent immigrants with limited resources. He received a nomination from the Ministry of Culture of El Salvador for the “Most Outstanding Salvadorian Abroad” award. He will attend Stevens Institute of Technology.
“I feel extremely elated and grateful for the committee believing in me and granting this life-changing opportunity,” he said. “I will now be able to act as a role model for those students who need some motivation and guidance in their journey.”
Yoo, of Hackensack, has served as alumni trustee to the College’s Board of Trustees from 2021-22 and the valedictorian for the class of 2021. As vice president of communication for College’s PTK honor society, she co-chaired the college project, the HUB (Help Unite Bergen), during the COVID-19 pandemic. Serving as a STEM student scholar, student researcher and mentor, she earned first place in physical science at the College’s annual STEM C2 Research Summit. In 2021, Yoo earned the All-USA Academic Team award, the NJ All-State Academic Team award and the Phi Theta Kappa Distinguished Officer Award. Originally from Canada, Yoo earned her associate’s degree in chemistry from Bergen in 2021 and envisions herself as a medical practitioner.
“I am very excited to be part of the Cooke community and I am grateful for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s generosity,” she said. “This support will enable me to make a difference in my community and beyond while pursuing my higher education at Williams College. My time at Bergen has been truly wonderful, and I would like to thank my advisors and professors who have helped me along the way.”
Yuqui, of Hackensack, a professional studies honors student, took an active role in the College’s student newspaper, The Torch, and has served as co-general vice president in College’s PTK honor society. As a New Jersey STARS student, Yuqui aspires for a career as a mathematics professor to influence others’ lives and to establish a nonprofit organization to assist low-income students through merit-based scholarships. With a 4.0 GPA, Yuqui earned the Judith K. Winn School of Honors Dual Honors Award.
“When I found out that I was a recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, I felt really emotional because it was a dream come true,” she said. “Winning this award would not have been possible without the motivation I have received from family members and friends who have passed away, from whom I derived courage to push my limits. This achievement will forever mark the beginning of my academic journey as a first-generation college student.”
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. The Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. Since 2000, the Foundation has awarded $230 million in scholarships to nearly 3,000 students from eighth grade through graduate school, along with comprehensive counseling and other support services. The Foundation has also provided $125 million in grants to organizations that serve such students. www.jkcf.org.
Based in Paramus, Bergen Community College (www.bergen.edu), a public two-year coeducational college, enrolls more than 13,000 students at locations in Paramus, the Philip 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.
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