COD Student Omar Escamilla Receives Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship

Omar Escamilla

By Brian Kleemann

College of DuPage student Omar Escamilla is the recipient of the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, the largest private scholarship for two-year and community college transfer students.

The Hanover Park resident is one of approximately 85 students nationwide to receive the scholarship and the eighth COD recipient in the College’s history. The scholarship consists of $40,000 annually to cover educational expenses – including tuition, room and board, books, and fees – during the final two or three years when the recipient completes a bachelor’s degree. Click here for photos of College of DuPage Vice President of Student Affairs Earl Dowling surprising Escamilla during his Anthropology class to announce he had received the scholarship. 

“This scholarship is giving me the opportunity to pursue my education fully without the financial burden,” Escamilla said. “It will also allow me to spend more time giving back to the community.”

Escamilla has also been named a Fulbright Summer Institute participant and will attend the Scotland Summer Institute, a five-week cultural and academic program at the University of Dundee in Dundee and the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.

As a senior in high school, Escamilla wanted to move away and go to college. However, because he was unsure of a major, he didn’t want to enter as “undecided” and waste both time and money determining what career to select. He also was worried about the cost of tuition and room and board.

But after attending a college fair at College of DuPage, Escamilla was impressed by the large, modern campus and began to realize his negative perception of a community college may have been wrong.

“I decided to revisit COD and talk to current students about their experience,” he said. “I was surprised to hear about everything COD had to offer and the quality of the education. I then realized that COD was the right place to begin my college experience.”

Before starting at College of DuPage, Escamilla learned about the College’s Living Leadership Program and attended a Leadership Retreat at George Williams College the summer before his first semester. This allowed him to meet a variety of student leaders and faculty while giving him assurance that he selected the right school.

Once he started, Escamilla immediately began taking advantage of opportunities beyond the classroom. He has since become a member of the Student Leadership Council, Campus Crusade for Christ, Latino Ethic Awareness Association and the Philosophy Club. He also is the Vice President of Phi Theta Kappa and served as the Student Trustee on the school’s Board of Trustees during the 2014-15 academic year.  

After earning his Associate in Arts degree, Escamilla is transferring to DePaul University to study organizational communication. He also wants to volunteer at local schools.

“Because my passion is education, I want to work with the Chicago public schools and become a mentor for high school students from low-income families where education may not be stressed,” he said. “I want to be an inspiration for these students. In high school, even though I was an honors student, I just got by. I thought the teachers perceived that I was in these classes because I was lucky, and I began to think that I could only just get by. Also, being a minority, some people believed that I didn’t care about school, that my parents were forcing me to be there.

“Too often we allow labels to be put on us, and I hope my story will help other students realize that they have the power to redefine themselves. It can be very liberating to know that no matter where you come from, you can have a positive impact on someone’s life.”

Escamilla eventually would like to earn both a master’s degree and a doctorate in higher education administration. His goal is to work at a college or university in student affairs, where he can create a welcoming environment, work with students and help engage them with the campus community.

“There are no words to express how grateful I am to College of DuPage and to everyone who works here,” he said. “Some people think of a community college as just an extension of high school, that it doesn’t produce a high quality education and that it’s only for people who are lost. I’m here to say none of this is true, and I decided I wasn’t going to be labeled. When it comes to education, it ultimately is what you do with it that counts.

“I have so much gratitude and appreciation for the people who have helped me in my community college experience. The professors, administrators, advisors and staff – I believe they all have the common goal of getting students to succeed and be the best they can be. They allowed me to step out of my comfort zone, and I learned strengths that I didn’t know I had before.”