Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) student, Taima Al-Iriani, is one of 61 recipients of the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. This highly competitive national scholarship will provide Al-Iriani with up to $40,000 annually for a maximum of three years to complete her bachelor’s degree.
Originally from Yemen, Al-Iriani has been living in America without her family since she was 14. As a teenager, Al-Iriani decided she wanted to pursue an education in the U.S. so she learned English and applied to a one-year high school student exchange program, sponsored by the U.S. State Department. Her application was accepted in 2014 and Al-Iriani was placed with a family in Indiana. While living with her host family and attending Martinsville High School, civil war broke out in Yemen. Shortly afterward, she was told she would not be able to return to Yemen and to her family. She could not go home. The State Department extended assistance to her until 2017, but then she was on her own. She had to learn how to live independently, to drive, to pay for housing, school and food.
Al-Iriani did not let bad events define who she is, she said, “Instead, I want them to motivate me, allow me to spread positivity, inspire courage and help motivate others.”
Al-Iriani is dedicated to that ideal – she makes time to serve her community and assist where she can. In fact, she has received several awards for her charitable work including a certificate from the U.S. Department of State for completing more than 100 hours of community service in 2014-2015 and the Community College Initiative Award for completing 125 hours of community service in 2016-2017.
As she attends NOVA to complete her associates degree and works part-time at Design Cuisine, a catering company in Washington, D.C., Al-Iriani continues to reach out and help others. While maintaining a 3.933 GPA, she also volunteers at the nonprofit organization Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies which educates government organizations about the plight in Yemen, she acts as a tutor for students at NOVA’s Alexandria Campus, she works with NOVA’s disability department as well as attends classes with students who have disabilities to help take class notes, she is involved with Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society and she was a leading member of the International Friends Club at NOVA.
Al-Iriani has overcome hardships and economic barriers in her personal life and within her own country, and she knows that the U.S. is where she wants to finish her education, start a career and live permanently. She filled out the necessary documentation to request that the United States grant her political asylum, and on February 26, 2019 it was approved.
Al-Iriani will graduate from NOVA on May 17 and has already applied to the University of Virginia, William and Mary, Virginia Tech, James Madison University and Virginia Commonwealth University. She is eager to learn where she has been accepted. Al-Iriani’s plans for the future, were rooted in her past. She was deeply affected when her uncle, a defense lawyer in Yemen, was murdered in their home country. She also witnessed many abuses and social injustices during her formative years – and she now aspires to be a human rights lawyer. She is committed to help individuals achieve just treatment and overcome personal tragedy. Al-Iriani is also inspired and encouraged by the work of organizations such as the Innocence Project, which seeks to overturn wrongful convictions.
In addition to the monetary award, the new Cooke Transfer Scholars will receive comprehensive educational advising from Foundation staff to guide them through the process of transitioning to a four-year school and preparing for their careers. The Foundation will also provide opportunities for internships, study abroad and graduate school funding, as well as connection to a thriving network of nearly 2,500 fellow Cooke Scholars and alumni.
Al-Iriani is excited about being awarded the Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship and to be a new part of this community of scholars.
“I’ve been living without my family for many years, and I might not see them for many more,” said Al-Iriani. Being a member of this group will allow me to be a part of a larger family, which excites me. The Cooke Scholar community will also be a constant reminder that I am not alone and America is now home.”
This year, nearly 1,500 students applied for the Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. The Foundation evaluated each submission based on academic ability, persistence, leadership and service to others. The recipients selected represent 18 different states, have a median adjusted gross income of $28,000 and an average GPA of 3.93. This year’s cohort of Cooke Transfer Scholars has applied to the nation’s most selective institutions.
A full list of the 2019 Cooke Transfer Scholars, including the community colleges and states they represent can be viewed here.