Five Pearl River students named Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship semifinalists

POPLARVILLE, Miss. – Five Pearl River Community College students were recently selected as semifinalists for the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. This year’s PRCC semifinalists are Ashton Anderson, Savannah Barnes, Alyssa Necaise, Kyle Simpson and Kirsten Speights. 

Through this community college transfer scholarship, the JKC Foundation supports high-achieving community college students as they transfer to some of the top four-year institutions in the country to complete their bachelor’s degrees.

The Foundation provides up to $40,000 per year to scholarship recipients for up to three years, making it among the largest private scholarships for community college transfer students in the country.

“I would like to thank our administrators and the college for the vision to support this program every year, and I would like to recognize the hard-working mentors who have dedicated themselves to these students’ success: Doctor Terri Smith Ruckel and Lisa Wall have gone above and beyond,” Phi Theta Kappa Advisor Dr. Ryan Ruckel said. “In the state of Mississippi, there were 11 JKC Semifinalists, of which Pearl River has five. These students will be able to carry this Semifinalist designation for the rest of their lives.”


Anderson is from Purvis, where he attended Purvis High School. Since becoming a Wildcat, he has been involved in the William Lewis Honors Institute, Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society and a member of the Honors in Action Project. He plans to major in pharmaceuticals and would like to transfer to Louisiana State University after graduating from Pearl River with his Associates degree and plans to work toward becoming a pharmacist.

“If you would have told me back when I started here at Pearl River back in August 2018, that I would be a Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship Semifinalist, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Anderson said. “I am more than honored to be selected as a semifinalist for this prestigious scholarship. 

“It means the world to me to be a part of the Wildcat Family. My advisors and the friends I have made have been there for me whenever I’ve needed them and I can’t thank them enough for always being there to count on.”


Barnes was born and raised in Petal, where she attended Petal High School. Before she came to Pearl River Community College, she was a part of the Petal Marching Band, Yearbook Club and Advanced Placement classes. Barnes currently attends the Forrest County Campus. She plans to transfer to the University of Mississippi to pursue a Bachelor of Multi-Disciplinary Studies. Her focus will be on the Korean language, TESOL and creative writing.

Barnes says her time at PRCC has taught her to always keep the future in mind.

“It means the world for me to receive this recognition as a semifinalist for the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship,” Barnes said. “Sometimes, it feels as if your work isn’t doing anything beneficial. You feel stretched like a rubber band; however, that rubber band reverts to its original state once there is a validation for your efforts. This recognition is not only an opportunity but a form of validation for my hard work.

“Two years can make a difference. Pearl River Community College made a difference. I will always be thankful for the friends and experiences I have gained from being a part of the Wildcat Family. Dr. Ryan Ruckel, Dr. Terri Ruckel, Ms. Cheri Alder, and Dr. Tim Crowe have all made a difference in my experiences at PRCC. I cannot thank these instructors enough for the push they have given me to chase my passion, to set my goals, and to make firm decisions. Thank you to everyone who has helped push me to pursue these opportunities.”


Necaise is from Kiln, where she attended Hancock High School. Since joining the Wildcat Family she has become involved in many on campus organizations. Necaise is a River Navigator, member of Mu Alpha Theta Math Honor Society, a tutor and peer mentor at Student Support Services, a STEAM Club member and is President of both the Dr. William Lewis Honors College and the Phi Theta Kappa Iota Mu Chapter. She is majoring in Polymer Science Engineering and plans to transfer to the University of Southern Mississippi after graduating with her Associates degree from The River in May. Necaise plans to obtain her bachelor’s degree in Polymer Science Engineering and hopefully pursue higher degrees while working in the field. She ideally would like to work with NASA or a chemical company such as Chemours or Subic as an engineer. 

Necaise does not take this prestigious recognition lightly. 

“This opportunity means a possible avenue to success free of financial barriers,” Necaise said. “I am humbled and honored at the same time. I was completely shocked when I received the email, but I was also so eager to share the news with all those who’ve helped me along the journey. My teachers and advisors have been so supportive in this application progress, and I thank them for that. I am also thankful to God for his many blessings, including this opportunity to be a Jack Kent Cooke Semifinalist. Thank you also to the Cooke Foundation for giving me this recognition and helping transfer students accomplish their goals.”

She recognizes the support she was given at Pearl River and the opportunities that has opened up for her.

“My time at PRCC had been a time of growth and learning both educationally and personally,” Necaise said. “The instructors, advisors, and classmates I have met here have truly impacted my life and future. It’s important to be surrounded with people who believe in you and are willing to help. I will be so sad to leave it behind, but I look forward to what the future holds.”


Simpson, 29, was born in Orlando, Florida, although they have spent most of their life in Mississippi. They attended Palm Bay High School in Melbourne, Florida; however, they dropped out while in tenth grade due to personal stressors. Kyle spent most of their 20s working full-time and independently studying the social sciences. During their time at PRCC (Spring 2018-Fall 2019), they became a member of PRCC Forrest County Center’s William Lewis Honors College, Phi Theta Kappa chapter—Beta Tau Gamma, Mu Alpha Theta chapter, Sigma Kappa Delta chapter, as well as participated in the campus’ History and Humanities, and Travel clubs.

“Truthfully, I felt very confident in the likelihood that I would make semifinalist, and I am elated to be given the honor,” Simpson said. “I do not say that to be arrogant. I put in real, devoted work for the Jack Kent Cooke application—and for my studies overall—that I am genuinely proud of. I could not have done this alone; however, I must thank Dr. Terri Ruckel personally for her endless support and the tireless work she devotes to each of her students. I am beyond excited to see who all wins in April.”

Simpson has received their Associate of Arts degree from Pearl River and plans to major in psychology upon transferring to university, where they intend to conduct research concerning poverty’s effect on the ability of individuals and cultural cohort groups to process trauma and grief productively. They plan on ultimately attaining a PhD in counseling psychology with an emphasis on grief counseling and poverty studies. Their top three choices for transfer are Cornell University, Stanford University, and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Post-academia, Simpson plans to work on synthesizing emotional health initiatives with economic justice initiatives, locally, nationally, and globally.

Simpson appreciates the support they have been given at Pearl River.

“When I enrolled at PRCC, I was not sure what to expect from a community college in southeast Mississippi, but I have been endlessly whelmed by the dedication and quality of PRCC’s faculty,” Simpson said. “As a non-traditional student who thought that academia was never going to be a part of my future, I have been beyond well-served by PRCC.

“If not for the amazing professors I have had, and built genuine bonds with, my future would not be the beacon of ambition and optimism that it has become. There are not enough words to ever fully communicate my gratitude; I will move forward and do the Wildcat name proud.”


Speights is a first-generation college student from Picayune who and graduated from Picayune Memorial High School with high honors. Because of her history with band high school, she knew becoming a member of the Spirit of the River and Wind Ensemble as a flute and piccolo player would allow her to build all kinds of relationships. Since joining the Wildcat Family, she has also had the privilege of being a Phi Theta Kappa officer, the Vice President of Fellowship. She is also a tutor with Student Support Services. 

She found her passion in understanding the criminal mind and why people decide to cross the “moral threshold” which is why she is a psychology major with a concentration in forensic psychology. Speights plans to transfer to either the University of Southern Mississippi or CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She will graduate from Pearl River with an honors medallion in May and is very proud to be called a Wildcat.

Speights has ambitious career goals and recognizes the educational foundation she has built at Pearl River.

“My ultimate goal is to become a member of the FBI but everyone has to start somewhere and PRCC was my springboard to grow as a person,” she said. “The connections I have made in the Wildcat Family have allowed me to explore new ideas and to challenge myself to grow and inspire others, including my little brother. I used to have the opinion that community college was not for me but now that I am a Wildcat I cannot recommend anywhere else to start.

“This recognition has finally allowed myself to see how my hard work has paid off. Often, I doubt myself but earning this recognition has made me realize I have the power to shape my own destiny, with my family and the grace of God by my side. I will forever be grateful for this opportunity and hope my story will inspire others that your financial circumstances do not define your success. The Wildcat Way has proved that time and time again.”

Scholarship finalists will be announced in April. 

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Pearl River Community College offers equal education and employment opportunities.  The College does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, national origin, veteran status, or disability.  For inquiries regarding the non-discrimination policies or to request accommodations, special assistance, or alternate format publication please contact Tonia M. Seal, Director of Admissions and Records/ ADA/Civil Rights Coordinator at P.O. Box 5559, Poplarville, MS 39470 or 601-403-1060 or Maghan James, Assistant Vice President of Student Services/Title IX Coordinator at P.O. Box 5805, Poplarville, MS 39470 or 601-403-1132.

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