By CHUCK ABADIE
Director of Public Relations
A Pearl River Community College student, Said D. Otwane, is the third in four years to win the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Transfer Scholarship.
Otwane is one of 47 scholars nationwide to achieve this $40,000 per year award to further his education.
“I am still in a state of shock because this is a dream come true,” said Otwane. “It means that I can confidently walk down the path that I have chosen in life. It means that I can show my mother (Fatma Otwane) that the sacrifices she has made were not in vain. Doors that seemed sealed shut have now been flung open for me.”
Otwane, 20, is a native of Mombasa, Kenya. He graduated from Petal High School before choosing to attend PRCC. His mom and his aunt are PRCC graduates.
“I knew from the start that I was heading to a fantastic place,” said Otwane. “I chose PRCC because they offered me lots of scholarships. PRCC has wonderful staff and faculty. The teachers are overqualified and passionate about their work.”
One of those teachers is Dr. Terri Ruckel, Dean of the William A. Lewis Honors Institute at PRCC & Phi Theta Kappa advisor.
“Coming up with a few remarks about my experience with Said (pronounced “s ay ee d) is a difficult task,” said Dr. Ruckel. “Said is a once-in a-lifetime kind of student about whom I cannot possibly say enough good things. He is gracious to all, uncompromisingly authentic, and is always where he said he would be doing what he was assigned or volunteered to do. I am delighted that his ambitious bid for the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship has been rewarded.”
Otwane’s major is computer engineering. He is not exactly sure where he will transfer but Princeton is high on his wish list.
Said Dr. Ruckel, “He will make his family and PRCC proud no matter which university he decides to attend, though just now, I’m pulling for Princeton.”
A president’s list scholar, Otwane has been recognized for a host of academic honors. They include: President of the Beta Tau Gamma Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, ambassador of the William A. Lewis Honors Institute, president of the Chess Club and a member of Sigma Kappa Delta, Mu Alpha Theta, the History and Humanities Club, the Video Game Club and the Student Government Association.
Dr. Doug Donohue a math faculty member, echoed Dr. Ruckel’s praises. “When I first met Said, he struck me as a quiet, thoughtful, respectful young man. As I got to know him over the course of teaching him Calculus I, II, III, and IV, and Statistics, as well as serving as one of his Phi Theta Kappa advisors, I discovered that not only was he thoughtful and respectful, but Said is also hard-working, intelligent, funny, generous, and very capable.”
His path from Kenya to the U.S. when he was 12 years old was not a simple one, as he explains.
“My mother would travel between Dubai and Kenya for work,” he said. “She planned to relocate our family there because it would make a lot of things easier. One day, she got the opportunity to move to the United States. She decided that the U.S would provide us better prospects and opportunities. She also chose the U.S because my siblings and I would face a huge language barrier if we were to go to Dubai. She is the only one who speaks Arabic.”
World traveler he is not. “I haven’t done much international travel beyond my home country and here. I have been to England, but I want to see as much of the world in person as I can.”
As he works his way towards a May 2018 graduation, Otwane reflects on all his experiences and those who have helped him along the way.
“PRCC has allowed me the opportunity to lessen the burden that my mother faces,” he said. “It has allowed me to grow and become a better individual. It has led me to grow as a scholar. It has given me a home that I did not know I needed. It has brought wonderful, caring, and supportive individuals to my life.”
Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship recipient Said Otwane of Petal with his mother, Fatma Otwane.
Said Otwane of Petal with, from left, Dr. Ryan Ruckel, Dr. Terri Ruckel and Dr. Jana Causey.
PRCC Public Relations photo