When Summer Allison ’23 reflects upon the two biggest influences in her life thus far, the contrast could not be starker: The single parent who raised her in a small, impoverished town in southeast central Texas, and the broadcasting and professional sports mogul who owned the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Redskins.
Yet, the personal journey that ultimately brought Allison to Hollins University would not have been possible without the mom who “invested the idea in me that education is by far the most important thing to achieve,” and the organization established by businessman Jack Kent Cooke that is devoting millions of dollars “to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need.”
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has been a part of Allison’s story from an early age. “My mother had me while she was in high school and she worked really hard to support us (Allison also has a younger brother),” she recalls. “She decided to go back to college because it wasn’t economically feasible for her to not have a degree.”
Allison’s mom enrolled at a local community college, and it was there that she found out about the Cooke Foundation College Scholarship Program, a highly competitive initiative that provides up to $40,000 a year for a four-year, undergraduate education as well as funding for graduate school. Her economic situation and academic achievement earned her an award, and she subsequently transferred to nearby Texas A&M University to study political science.
Even with the generous educational stipend, Allison’s mom had to work two or three part-time jobs in order to make ends meet at home. “For years and years she would work as newspaper carrier during the early morning hours and as a crossing guard during the day. I practically grew up in my mom’s car – we would head out at 3 a.m., come home at 6, and she’d get us ready for school and then go to school herself.”
But Allison says her mom never wavered from her commitment. She was so impressed with the financial support and personal encouragement she received from the Cooke Foundation that she convinced Allison to apply to the organization’s Young Scholars Program when she became eligible at age 12. A selective five-year, pre-college scholarship for high-performing seventh grade students with financial need (only 60 students are chosen from roughly 3,000 applicants each year), the Young Scholars Program provides academic and college advising, along with funds to participate in summer programs, internships, and other learning opportunities.
“The goal is to help you pursue interests that otherwise you wouldn’t be able to do, and get you curious about what’s happening beyond your immediate environment,” Allison explains. Fluent in Spanish, she spent summers during her middle and high school years immersed in language training in Mexico and at Concordia Language Villages in Minnesota. She also took a psychology course at Brown University that focused on the study of pseudo-science.
Allison’s experience with the Young Scholars Program led her to pursue acceptance into the Cooke Foundation College Scholarship Program. As with her mother before her, she is receiving up to $40,000 a year for her undergraduate education; combined with an award she received from the Horatio Alger Association, she’ll graduate from Hollins debt-free. She is considering parlaying her lifelong passion for anthropology into completing a degree in sociology.
Another major benefit of her involvement with the Cooke Foundation, Allison says, is the opportunity to network with her fellow scholarship recipients. “We hang out a lot together and talk about what it means to have this kind of privilege. It makes you want to work hard to ensure that we produce a world where people not only have economic opportunity but also academic opportunity.
“I love my Cooke community. They are my rock and I am forever indebted to these people. Without them, I wouldn’t have a global perspective. If I ever get to the point in my career where I feel like I’m changing the world, then I have completed their mission for me: ‘Think big. Work hard. Achieve.’”
Allison is also quick to credit her mom, who is now a professor at Texas A&M and is working on her doctoral degree. “When I talk about my life experience, I can’t not talk about my mother. I’m actually standing on the shoulders of a great person.”