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July 18, 2013


(Newark, NJ) – Essex County College took center stage during last night’s meeting of the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders when the Valedictorian of the Class of 2013, Nayasha De Freitas, and three recipients of prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarships, Kamika Bennett, Karolina Caravelli-Campos and Diego Cruz-Burbano, were honored by the Board.  The Board’s Commendations were sponsored and presented to the honorees by Freeholder Rolando Bobadilla of Newark, who was joined by Interim Essex County College President Dr. Gale Gibson.

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Freeholder Rolando Bobadilla (back row, left) was joined by Interim Essex County College President Dr. Gale Gibson (back row) when he presented the Board’s Commendations to 2013 Essex County College graduates (front row, left to right) Nayasha De Freitas (Class Valedictorian) and Karolina Caravelli-Campos, Diego Cruz-Burbano and Kamika Bennett, winners of Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarships.  (Photo by Glen Frieson)

“Tonight it is an honor for me to recognize four outstanding 2013 graduates, and scholars, from Essex County College”, said Freeholder Bobadilla. “There is nothing more important to future success than an education, and that is a truth tonight’s honorees have taken to heart.  They have worked hard at their studies, even while working full or part-time jobs or raising children, and they have succeeded, reaching the top of their class.”

Freeholder Bobadilla also introduced Dr. Gale Gibson, the Interim President of Essex County College and only its second female president, as “a proven leader with twenty years of experience in higher education who will take Essex County College to the next level.”

“I’m so glad the freeholders have seen fit to honor our students this evening”, said Dr. Gibson.  “They are the crème de la crème, and their determination to overcome obstacles and excel in their academics is to be applauded.”

Nayasha DeFreitas of East Orange, the Valedictorian for the Class of 2013, earned her Associate’s degree in Biology, Pre-Medicine, with a perfect 4.0 grade point average. An immigrant from Guyana, she hadn’t been in a classroom for eight years since her graduation from secondary school when she began her studies at Essex County College in 2009.  Nevertheless, she overcame self-doubts to work her way to the pinnacle of academic achievement.  And she did so while working a full-time job and being a full-time mom to her 8-year old son.  Nayasha will attend Rider University this fall where she will major in Biology and minor in Pre-Medical Studies, and aspires to become an oncologist dedicated to cancer research.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation was established in 2000 through the will of prominent businessman, sportsman and philanthropist Jack Kent Cooke, a self-made billionaire who passed away in 1997, who envisioned a foundation that would support individuals of exceptional promise who defy the stereotype that a low-income environment precludes high academic achievement.  This year, through its Young Scholars Program, the Foundation awarded 73 Undergraduate Transfer Scholarships to community college students across the country who attained outstanding academic achievement in the face of adversity, three of whom are Essex County College students: Kamika Bennett, Karolina Caravelli-Campos and Diego Cruz-Burbano.

Bennett, from Cranford, was a homeless woman struggling to get a green card after her visa from Jamaica had expired when she first arrived at Essex County College three years ago.  Today, at the age of 21, she has earned an Associate Degree in biology and is the winner of a scholarship that will fund the next chapter of her education at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, where she will major in American Studies, concentrating on migration patterns and immigration policy.

Caravelli-Campos overcame serious medical problems to succeed.  She was diagnosed with a rare lung disease, lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), and then with another rare genetic disease, tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC).  Despite these issues, she was accepted into the Honors Program and then went on to major in business, launch clubs for business students and animal advocacy, and to win her Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, which she will use to fund her studies at Rutgers in New Brunswick.

Cruz-Burbano immigrated with his family from Ecuador in 2010, and with the hope of following in the footsteps of family members to become a civil engineer.  Like most immigrants, his family struggled financially, and he was unable to secure financial aid to attend NJIT.  Instead, he was accepted into its Honors Program at Essex County College with financial support.  Through his Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, and will pursue his civil engineering dream when he enrolls at Georgia Tech, one of the best engineering schools in the country, this fall.

“The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation conducts a nationwide search for the finest students in America”, said Dr. Gibson, “and I’m proud to say that they have, indeed, found the finest here at Essex County College.  We are the only community college in the country to have 3 scholarship winners in both 2012 and 2013, and this is a testament to our dedicated students, and to our great faculty and staff.”


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For Additional Information:
Gary Kroessig, Public Information
Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders




Board of Chosen Freeholders, County of Essex
Hall of Records - Room 558, 465 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., Newark, New Jersey 07102
Tel: (973) 621-4486 Fax: (973) 621-5695