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ATLANTA, Ga. — Three Georgia State University Perimeter College students have been selected as semifinalists for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship.

Amadou Bau, Chad Curtiss and Gillian Gilbert-Wason are among 535 students selected nationwide as semi-finalists from a pool of 2,500 applicants. Final selection of the Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholars will be announced in April.

The competitive Jack Kent Cooke scholarship provides funds for chosen recipients to complete their bachelor’s degrees at a four-year college or university and its level of funding often opens the door for recipients to choose universities with tuitions that might be out of reach otherwise.

The foundation offers up to $40,000 per year for up to three years for each of about 40 students selected annually, making the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship the largest private scholarship for two-year and community college transfer students in the country.

Since 2002, 16 Perimeter College students have been selected to receive the national scholarship.

For information about the scholarship, go to www.jkcf.org

Meet Perimeter College’s Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Semifinalists:

Amadou Bah

Amadou Bah’s resume reads like that of a career professional, although the Georgia State University Perimeter College student is only 21.

With his selection as a semifinalist for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, Bah has added yet another impressive accomplishment to his name.

News that the Georgia State University Perimeter College student made the cut from among 2,500 national contenders brought Bah to tears.

“When I heard about it, I was really excited,” Bah said. “I ran around looking for my professors.”

He found Dr. Taylor Shapero, and together they celebrated the good news. Shapero is unabashed about her support for the engineering student who in 2013 immigrated to the United States from Mozambique after living in three African countries.

“Amadou Bah is one of the strongest and most deserving students we will see come out of Perimeter College this decade,” Shapero wrote in a scholarship recommendation letter for Bah. She also noted his near-perfect scores in her statics course and his overall 4.0 GPA.

Bah’s drive to succeed stems in part from his experiences at an all-boys boarding school in Swaziland, where he received corporal discipline, had to hand-wash his clothes and learn using only the basics.

“Apart from calculators, no form of technology was allowed,” he said.

From Swaziland, Bah moved to Mozambique and lived with his aunt before, as a teenager, heading to the United States to reunite with his parents who had immigrated to the United States from Bah’s birthplace — Guinea, West Africa — more than a decade earlier.

“They felt that the rate at which the country (Guinea) was developing, coupled with political instability, would impact the lifestyle of their children,” Bah said.

As a Perimeter College Honors student, Bah has been selected for multiple scholarships and sfor the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. In January, he made a presentation at the 2018 Joint Mathematics Meeting in San Diego, the largest annual meeting of mathematicians in the world. Bah presented as a team with one student from Georgia Tech and one from Agnes Scott College.

On Perimeter’s Clarkston Campus, Bah is a sought-after math and engineering tutor. He also conducts science, technology, engineering and math workshops and serves as president of Clarkston’s computer/engineering and math clubs.

After graduating from Perimeter College in May, Bah plans to study computer engineering at either Carnegie Mellon University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford University or Cornell University. If he is selected as a recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke award, the financial challenges of attending one of these elite schools would be eased.

Bah realizes his plan still may seem a tall order, but he is comfortable with aiming high.

“No one has ever gained anything by thinking small,” he said.

Chad Curtiss

Chad Curtiss’s selection as a semifinalist for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship came at the right time.

Out of consideration for taking care of his growing family, the 35-year-old Georgia State University Perimeter College student had begun to think about getting his associate degree and then working in real estate — although as a political science student, his passion is public policy.

The prospect of winning the JKC award inspired him to pursue his bachelor’s and master’s degrees as originally planned.

“It would really take the financial burden off of my family,” he said of winning the Cooke award. “And I could pursue the education and the career I really want.”

Curtiss’s life is reading like a fairy tale these days. He takes Honors courses and will graduate with honors from Perimeter College in May. Weeks later, he and his wife are expecting their second daughter. All this, Curtiss says, is in stark contrast to the challenging childhood he experienced.

“I was raised by dysfunctional parents,” the 35-year-old said. “One dipped out (when I was) 6. One raised me.”

Curtiss says he spent a big part of his childhood caring for his mother, who he says suffered from mental illness. He dropped out of high school in 10th grade, after he says his mom moved them to a South Carolina campground to prepare for Y2K and the end of the world.

When the feared Y2K computer issues and the end of the world didn’t happen, Curtiss says they stayed at several other campgrounds in and around South Carolina, before, at 19, he decided to leave and live on his own.

Curtiss spent some time homeless. He also worked various jobs — once as a party DJ — but never felt satisfied.

One day his wife, Laina, who Curtiss says has a master’s degree and is a public heath analyst, suggested he consider college.

“Honestly, I had never allowed myself to even dream of getting an education. I was always too concerned about the next day or week to even fathom thinking ahead to the next year or decade.”

As an award-winning college student, Curtiss has thrived.

“I’ve only made one B,” he said.

Curtiss plans to continue his education at Georgia State’s Atlanta Campus and later work in public health to help address the nation’s obesity epidemic.

Gillian Gilbert-Wason

Gillian Gilbert-Wason tried her hand at different occupations on her road to become a student at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College.

She was an airplane mechanic and is a licensed cosmetologist.

“I tried my hand at many things, but I really struggled at life,” Gilbert-Wason said. “I had a drug problem, and I was in a toxic relationship.”

That relationship caused her to leave her home in Maryland with her infant daughter. She came to Georgia to seek refuge with her mother in 2014, she said.

The change in scenery was good for them both. She also began working at her daughter’s preschool. And she began looking for a way to continue her education.

“I knew I wanted to go back to school and asked a lot of people when I moved here where to go,” she said.

Gilbert-Wason was directed to Perimeter College, where she flourished, taking Honors classes, and getting involved in Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society. (She is now president of the organization.)

She initially studied art, graduating from Perimeter with her associate degree in December 2017. But she realized she wanted more and came back to concentrate on environmental science. That pathway led her to the Native Plant Botanical Garden on the Decatur Campus, where she works part time. Her ultimate goal now is to work in research in environmental science, and she plans to transfer to Georgia State’s Atlanta Campus.

“Going back to school has been very empowering for me,” she said. “The Jack Kent Cooke scholarship would allow me to quit work or drastically reduce my hours, and it would allow me to afford full-time tuition. I have been attending school part time and juggling several jobs to take care of myself and my daughter. My hope is to get through school without having to take out loans. If I can attend school full time, I should be able to complete my degree within two to two-and-half years and enter the work force.”

Gilbert-Wason already has received some support. She recently learned she is the recipient of the Coca-Cola New Century Award. That scholarship provides up to $2,000 toward her education.

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