Ten students from Georgia State University’s Perimeter College have been named semifinalists for the 2023 Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. The Jack Kent Cooke award is a competitive scholarship for the nation’s top two-year college students. It provides recipients with up to $55,000 per year, placing the scholarship among the largest private awards in the country for community college transfer students. The following is a profile of one of Perimeter’s ten semifinalists. They are among 459 semifinalists selected from more than 1,700 applicants attending 215 community colleges in 38 states.
CLARKSTON, Ga.--Perimeter College student Julian Umana-Bernal is a U.S. Army veteran who learned English during his stint as a medic in South Korea during COVID-19. His time in the military strengthened his resolve to help others, he said.
As a semifinalist for the national Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, he hopes to make that dream a reality.
The child of Colombian parents, Umana-Bernal was born in Georgia, but his parents were deported back to Colombia when he was young. While in Colombia, he found he excelled in chemistry courses, taking as many advanced courses as he could in high school.
But furthering his education in college seemed a daunting financial challenge, he said.
He joined the U.S. Army after high school, saving money for college. “I was in South Korea and worked as a medic during COVID-19,” he said.
The experience reinforced his desire to help others.
“My time in the U.S. Army gave me a good sense of community and the satisfaction of putting others first and the feeling of being part of something bigger than myself,” he said. “And I learned English during that time.”
After serving in the military, he came to Perimeter College in 2021. “I had been living in Georgia before and knew that community college was the place I need to be,” Umana-Bernal said. He attended classes on the Clarkston Campus, continuing to excel in chemistry, physics and engineering. He also studied very hard. “I spent a lot of time in the library,” he said.
An Honors student, he credits chemistry professor Amy Cook, mathematics professor John Weber and Mathematics Engineering and Science Achievement program director, Janna Blum, for being his mentors while at Perimeter. But he also cites the 2022 Jack Kent Cooke winner, Papa Ebo Quainoo, as his primary motivator to apply for the scholarship. “He told me what to do to apply and to keep up my 4.0,” he said.
Umana-Bernal noted that his time as a medic in the army inspired him to continue his studies in chemistry while at Perimeter. But he had to return to Colombia because he couldn’t afford to stay in the U.S. He now takes classes online.
“I saw a lot of stuff going on during COVID working in the clinic as an EMT. It was one of the worst years in my life, seeing all that was going on. But I was inspired by the situation. Since I was I kid, I knew I wanted to help people and after my experience as a medic, I knew what I wanted to do. I want to create better products for helping people by focusing on creating medicines to solve health problems,” he said.
Umana-Bernal works part-time as an English tutor in Colombia and also volunteers as a tutor for students in advanced chemistry for his former high school professor.
It was while he was at work as a tutor that he found out he was a scholarship semifinalist, he said. “I got the email, and I was jumping up and down—I was so excited.”
If he wins the scholarship, he aspires to join the Jack Kent Cooke community of scholars who have endured and overcome similar economic uncertainties in their lives.
“I would love being surrounded by people who have been able to thrive in life, fight for their goals and still be as intellectually bright as any other individual with economic stability excites me. Sharing experiences with people who see education as the most powerful weapon to change our communities excites me,” he said.
Umana-Bernal, who is married, would like to go to Emory University and pursue a degree in chemistry.