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COD Alum Receives Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Graduate Scholarship

Omar Escamilla

By Brian Kleemann

Omar Escamilla sought out every available opportunity at College of DuPage and received several impressive awards, including the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, the largest private national scholarship for two-year and community college transfer students.

Now a student at DePaul University, where he is finishing his bachelor’s degree in Organizational Communication and a double minor in Education Studies and Intercultural Communication, Escamilla has earned the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Graduate Scholarship. This will provide up to $50,000 a year for up to four years as he pursues a master’s degree.

“I am grateful to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation for this second honor,” the Hanover Park resident said. “This will motivate me to push myself even further with my education and career.” 

In high school, Escamilla was looking forward to the experience at a four-year school but felt pressured to pick a major so he wouldn’t enter as “undecided.” He also worried about the cost of tuition and living expenses beyond the scholarships he earned.

While attending a college fair at College of DuPage, Escamilla was surprised at the size and beauty of the campus. He kept COD in the back of his mind even after being accepted at another school. When he returned to COD’s campus and spoke with current students, he decided to take a chance and switched schools.

Even before taking his first class, 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.

During his time at COD, Escamilla was involved with the Student Leadership Council, Campus Crusade for Christ, Latino Ethic Awareness Association and the Philosophy Club. He also was the Vice President of Phi Theta Kappa and served as the Student Trustee on the school’s Board of Trustees. 

In 2015, Escamilla was one of approximately 85 students nationwide to receive the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which consisted of $40,000 annually for up to three years. He also was named a Fulbright Summer Institute participant and attended 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.

While Escamilla already decided to pursue a career in higher education, it was his experiences in Scotland and through a COD Study Abroad trip to Italy that led him to focus on international education.

“My study abroad played an important role in my career decisions,” he said. “These experiences forced me to step outside of my comfort zone and learn from people who are not like me. I developed a great affection for traveling and learning new ideas. After the Fulbright Award, everything just clicked.”

Escamilla’s goal is to use the Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in International Education Development, and he has applied to the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University and George Washington University. This summer, he has secured an internship with the Institute of International Education, and his dream job would be to someday work with an organization like the Fulbright Foreign Student Program, UNESCO or Global Citizen.

Escamilla is grateful that he changed his higher education plans and started at College of DuPage.

“I knew I wanted a career in education, but COD is where I became passionate about higher education,” he said. “Not only did I have great teachers, but I was able to work alongside the administration, especially in my role as student trustee. The job that changed me the most was working in the Honors office assisting (now retired) Helen Feng. I saw in-depth how the College functions and learned how curriculum is developed.

“COD laid the groundwork for my future aspirations. I would not be where I am right now if it were not for the exposure I received to so many things while attending College of DuPage. I learned how to critically think through my academics and involvement on campus. Now I am eager to continue learning more about all aspects of higher education. I want to make a difference.”

College of DuPage is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Serving approximately 28,000 students each term, College of DuPage is the largest public community college in the state of Illinois. The College grants nine associate degrees and offers more than 170 career and technical certificates in over 50 areas of study.

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