Three El Camino College Students Awarded Prestigious Community College Transfer Scholarship

May 19, 2022 Torrance, CA

Three El Camino College students are among 100 recipients of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s prestigious Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. The highly competitive national scholarship will provide Andrea Fernandez Cruz, Brandon Vela, and Bryan Vela with up to $55,000 a year to complete their bachelor’s degree.

Having three award winners in one year is a record for the college and marks the second year in a row El Camino had finalists in the celebrated scholarship program, following the nomination of five ECC semifinalists earlier this spring. Since 2016, five El Camino students have been honored with this extraordinary award. 

“Congratulations to our finalists for this prominent scholarship award,” said El Camino College President Brenda Thames. “We are proud of their hard work and dedication that led to this remarkable achievement and thank the support system that helped them succeed, including faculty, staff, family and friends.”

In the 2020-21 academic year, four-year colleges and universities saw nearly 200,000 fewer transfer enrollment applications nationwide, reflecting the pandemic’s disruptive effect on students and their plans for college. Despite that decline, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation welcomed its largest class of Scholars to date, highlighting the talent and achievement of hundreds of community college students across the country. In light of growing financial hardship for so many families, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation also increased the maximum award amount by an extra $15,000 to ensure students can focus on their studies while enrolled.

“Being a 2022 Jack Kent Cooke Scholar feels beyond what words can describe,” said Andrea Fernandez Cruz, a marketing and communications major. “Receiving the scholarship lifted a financial burden off my family; I am so grateful. In my two years at El Camino, I grew significantly. I found the power of vulnerability and identification through sharing my story as a student Ambassador. I navigated personal and societal intergenerational trauma in spaces within the Student Equity Advisory Council and Inter-Club Council. And I discovered my voice by being the Associated Students Organization (ASO) director of public relations and experimenting in my field of interest, all of which prepared me for the next step. I thank El Camino so much for providing the resources to create the most unforgettable chapter in my life.”

Fernandez Cruz is a first-generation college student who is also a part of the South Bay Promise, Honors Transfer Program, ASO, and Puente. She plans to transfer to a university this fall to continue her studies in communications/media studies, with a minor in ethnic studies.

Brandon and Bryan Vela are twin brothers, both majoring in computer science. They were a part of El Camino organizations such as ASO, ICC, Honors Transfer Program, First Year Experience, South Bay Promise, Ambassador program, MESA, and EOPS. They also participated in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholar program and had opportunities to conduct research and learn from mentors.

“I feel so blessed and honored to receive this award; It gives me peace of mind that I can focus on my college career without the worry of finances,” said Brandon Vela. “I had access to incredible programs like MESA that offered so many opportunities that led me to win first place alongside my team in the NASA Community College Aerospace Competition; serve as a judge at MIT's Blueprint Hackathon; and earn a certificate at a National Science Foundation research conference at UCLA. I am so grateful to professor Joshua Casper and professor Dana Crotwell for writing my recommendations, they are incredible and truly care for students at El Camino!”

The Velas plan to attend UC Irvine in the fall and both feel confident about transferring and continuing their academic success.

“I am incredibly grateful to have been selected as a Jack Kent Cooke Scholar,” said Bryan Vela. “This would’ve never been possible without El Camino and support programs such as MESA, which opened countless opportunities for me. I was able to land an internship at Fika Ventures, participate in MIT's HackMIT undergraduate hackathon, and judge MIT’s Blueprint competition. I was also able to join Facebook at their Summer Technical Interview Preparation program hosted by software engineers and product managers last summer. I want to give a special thanks to professor Mora Mattern and professor Sumino Otsuji for writing my recommendations and helping me through the entire process. Attending El Camino College has been one of the best decisions I've made.”

New Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholars will receive comprehensive educational advising to guide them through the process of transitioning to a four-year college and preparing for their careers. Along with financial support, Scholars will additionally receive opportunities for internships, study abroad, and graduate school funding, as well as connection to a thriving network of over 3,000 Cooke Scholars and Alumni.

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.