The Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 6, 2002
May 6, 2002
VOL. 31, NO. 33


Seven Hopkins Seniors Get Big Grad School Gifts

New Jack Kent Cooke scholarships provide up to $300,000 over six years

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

For a student heading to graduate school, receiving one of the new Jack Kent Cooke scholarships is about as close as you can get to having your numbers come up in the lottery.

Last week, seven Hopkins seniors learned that they are among the 50 inaugural recipients of the nation's most generous foundation scholarships. Each of the winners will receive up to $300,000.

The scholars were announced on May 1 in College Park, Md., not far from the home of the Washington Redskins, the football team owned by Jack Kent Cooke, who died in April 1997.

Unable to attend college because of the Depression, Cooke, a media mogul who also owned the Los Angeles Lakers and the Chrysler Building in New York City, earmarked the bulk of his estate to establish a foundation dedicated to education. One of its major goals is to identify extraordinary individuals and help them pursue the kind of formal education the donor himself never had. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is setting aside approximately $10 million over the course of the next six years to support this first class of 50 scholars, who will receive up to $50,000 a year for tuition and living expenses.

To be eligible, college seniors must be a resident of, attending a college or university in, or plan to attend a graduate school in Maryland, Virginia, or Washington, D.C.

"We chose individuals with exceptional academic promise," said Matthew J. Quinn, executive director of the foundation, "but great intellectual ability was only one of our criteria. We chose students who had a special spark, who have overcome real adversity and who have a real commitment to giving back to society."

This year's scholars were selected from 675 applicants.

The recipients from Hopkins are Rachel Breman, Suzanna Brickman, Tara Johnson, Andrew O'Bannon, Lora Pearlman, Sarah Spinner and Elizabeth Tuffiash. One is in the School of Nursing, one in the Whiting School of Engineering and Peabody, and five in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Three will be continuing their education at Hopkins.

Two of the other winners, identical twins Fasika and Tinsay Woreta from the University of Maryland, College Park, will be entering medical school at Hopkins. And Lisa Lettau, a 33-year-old mother and former secretary who is graduating from Towson University, will pursue a doctorate in English here.

Rachel Bremen, a 27-year-old student from Sharon, Mass., has been on a long but focused path to reach her goal, which pairs her interests in travel and public health. Bremen, who expects to receive her bachelor's degree from the School of Nursing in July, holds a degree in Latin American studies from Brandeis and will be pursuing M.S.N./M.P.H. degrees at Hopkins next year.

In addition to English, Breman speaks French, Djerma, Spanish and Portuguese, languages acquired mostly from her travels. At 15, she was an exchange student in Costa Rica; then attended college in Seville, Spain; worked in Angola; and was with the Peace Corps in Niger, where French and Djerma are spoken.

One of her biggest challenges and profound experiences, Bremen told the selection committee, came from living in an isolated African village. After two months there, she unlocked the language structure when she discovered Djerma was based on the mother/child relationship. Every tree and plant had the suffix "mother," and their fruits had "child" as their suffix. "This was not only a beautiful way to express oneself, the meaning behind it was powerful," she says.

Her first position after graduating from Brandeis was with Management Sciences for Health, where she served as a senior program assistant, managing office issues between home and the field in Nicaragua, Bolivia and Senegal. In 1997, she traveled to Niger on behalf of the Peace Corps as a women's development agent, coordinating and managing programs and teams. Next, as an interim program manager with Catholic Relief Services, she went to Angola, where she worked in a war region participating in health projects with officials from the local government and international and NGO organizations.

After her two-year graduate studies in public health, Bremen plans to apply her knowledge toward maternal and child health issues. Her goal is to work in community health care programs, either overseas or among underserved populations in the United States.

Suzanna Brickman, a 21-year-old political science major from Great Neck, N.Y., will attend the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Brickman says she has had a passion for politics since childhood, inspired by her two grandmothers--one "the paradigm of a New York City progressive" and the other a civil rights activist who straddled two worlds, "her home, in which Spanish was the primary language, and the American culture into which she had been born."

Recent experiences, Brickman says, have influenced her career goals. As a U.S. Senate intern, she saw the American political system at work. During her sophomore year in London, as she saw the House of Commons in session, she began to understand "the dynamic web of international relationships and interdependence that has developed through history." She learned that "similar problems confront different governments" and "understood even more clearly the urgency of international solutions."

As a Latin American studies minor, Brickman made two academic visits to Cuba, which she calls "profoundly influential." The trips made her realize that she would like to "enter the world of politics through academic and diplomatic work."

Tara Johnson is completing two bachelor's degrees at Hopkins, in biomedical engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering and in musical performance at Peabody, and will return for a third degree, in the School of Medicine.

The 22-year-old French horn player from Kingsville, Md., says she knew early in her academic life that she wanted to study engineering and prepare for a career in medicine, and that she has "embraced this opportunity to diversify myself in college."

She has participated in several research projects with a biomedical focus, and as a volunteer for the Child-Life program at Johns Hopkins Hospital, she has worked with children to help improve their quality of life during their stay in the hospital. She also has made rounds with her father, an orthopedic surgeon whose work, she says, has been an inspiration to her throughout her life.

Her goal is to be a surgeon in academic medicine. Surgery, she says, is like a symphony, "with many individuals working in a concerted fashion, each contributing something of importance throughout the procedure."

Andrew O'Bannon, who majored in physics and writing, plans to further his studies at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The 22-year-old from Richmond, Va., says that he wants to pursue his own original research and "as a physics tutor, I learned that I love to teach." A university faculty position is the way to do both, he says. O'Bannon credits "writing, filmmaking and research" with providing him many tools to reach his goal. The writing skills he's honed since elementary school, he says, are "especially valuable in physics, where complex ideas often beg for clear, concise explanation." As a filmmaker he's developed leadership and teamwork skills that are also useful in physics research, which is "often team-based and funding-conscious."

His physics training was put to work in 2001, when he undertook a project on neutron star cooling at the University of Washington's Institute for Nuclear Theory. "I learned what relentless effort is needed to contribute a small scrap of useful knowledge to the body of science," he says.

Biology major Lora Pearlman, who grew up in the close-knit community of Carbondale, Ill., with parents who each hold three degrees, credits her family with instilling the importance of education and compassion. "As a physician's daughter, I watched my father heal and help children and adults who sometimes drove hours to see him, and I saw the joy he took in his work," says Pearlman, 21. "I believe his enthusiasm was contagious."

As a volunteer in the Children's Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Pearlman sees "children come into the playroom cranky, mistrustful and with their eyes swollen from brain surgery." But after spending time with caring people, the children are transformed with energy levels soaring. "They play harder, eat more and will likely heal faster," Pearlman says.

Pearlman has been active in Student Affiliates for the American Chemical Society, showing Baltimore's inner-city students that "science is not just reading a textbook." Through presentations on "making slime to show chemical reactions" or freezing food in liquid nitrogen, she gets kids excited about learning so they will continue their education beyond high school.

She plans to enter the health care profession.

Sarah Spinner, a French and history of art major, plans to further her studies at Yale in a joint J.D.-Ph.D. program in history.

Spinner credits the teachers in Hamilton, Ontario, where she and her twin brother and three other siblings grew up, for stimulating her mind and creativity and encouraging her to pursue her goals. "I specifically remember my French teacher staying every day after school with me to prepare me for a national French contest," the 22-year-old says. She won the top prize in the region.

Spinner spent five summers in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, studying art and participating in an internship in the Department of Medieval Art. There, she learned about art restitution, a subject in which she has developed a deep interest.

During an internship at the Commission for Art Recovery in New York, Spinner researched claims for stolen art and also identified missing manuscripts that had been looted during World War II. Last summer, she held an internship at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, where she built a research archive of worldwide German Judaica. While in Germany, she conducted advanced research in seven archives for her senior thesis.

Spinner says she is committed to telling the public about "the important, unsung contributions of the American men and women" of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section of the American military government in Germany.

Elizabeth Tuffiash, a cognitive science major from Randolph, N.J., will further her studies at the School of Medicine.

Tuffiash, 21, says her motto is "making my opportunities rather than waiting for them to come to me." The trials in her life that she describes as "excruciating" have also motivated her as she has matured, she says. Today she sees herself as a "happy, intelligent young woman with a future that I command rather than a future to which I am resigned." She intends to have a private medical practice, marriage and a family.

Tuffiash once considered becoming a veterinarian and worked at a zoo. But one night her sister went into anaphylactic shock after eating almond cake in a restaurant. "Her throat closed completely. Administering mouth-to-mouth, I was credited with keeping her stable until the EMTs could take over," Tuffiash says. "I knew with a calm certainty that I wanted to spend the rest of my life helping people the way I helped my sister."

Tuffiash has worked with neurologically impaired patients as a research assistant in the School of Medicine's Department of Neurology, has conducted laboratory research in the Krieger School's Department of Cognitive Science and is a published co-author.

Involvement in Student Pugwash, a science and medical ethics discussion group, introduced Tuffiash to issues such as human cloning and the use of animals in lab research that she says will influence the choices she will be making as a physician. Through research, she hopes to find ways to restore lost brain function caused by stroke and other neurological pathologies. "As a doctor, I will also be an educator, helping other students the way I have been helped and [will] someday have the honor of becoming someone else's mentor," Tuffiash says.