Georgia Perimeter College Newsroom

Yitbarek Kazentet was one of two GPC students to win the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke scholarship this year. (photo by Bill Roa)

Award ends excuses, increases options, says JKC winner

By Rebecca Rakoczy

When Yitbarek Kazentet heard the news that he had received the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, he was stunned. The Georgia Perimeter College Clarkston Campus engineering student and Ethiopian native had once worked three jobs to live and help put himself through school, sometimes nodding off in class because he was so tired.

“I moved to the United States in 2011 from Ethiopia and moved in with my cousin. I came to GPC because I was told it was a good place to start,” says Kazentet. “I come from a very small town. I remember the very first time I saw live TV, {when] I was a big boy,” he says with a laugh.

“Although I did take some classes in drafting and design before, going to college wasn’t an option for me in Ethiopia,” says Kazentet. 

The news that he would receive up to $40,000 a year for three years to continue his undergraduate education was overwhelming, he says. An Honors student carrying a 3.9 GPA, Kazentet had already been accepted to Georgia Tech and the University of North Dakota. But as an international student, the tuition to both schools is daunting.

Now he has more options, he says. “This scholarship means more pressure and more responsibility for me. I have no excuses, and I can’t fail,” he says.

If Kazentet feels any pressure, he doesn’t show it, say his instructors, Dr. John Weber and Dr. Mary Helen O’Connor. The math professor and English professor both recommended Kazentet for Jack Kent Cooke scholarship and were happy to hear that he had won.

Weber first had Kazentet in his statistics class—and also taught him calculus, among other courses in math. “I remember he always sat up front and always had a smile—I don’t care how much I challenged him,” Weber says. “And he doesn’t hesitate to share his knowledge—Yitbarek is always willing to share what he knows and engages others and gives suggestions.”

“He has this way that lifts other students up, and he’s excited about learning, whether it’s in math or English,” says O’Connor, who taught Kazentet English composition. “He leads by setting the bar high.”

Kazentet says he loves all math and was inspired by Weber to continue his engineering studies. But he says it was O’Connor who convinced him to change his major in the first place, from pre-pharmacy to engineering.

“Before I was working at the [DeKalb] farmer’s market and at two other jobs,” he says. “I wrote a personal narrative in her class, and she saw how much I loved engineering—and asked me why I wasn’t following my passion, [instead of pre-pharmacy],” he recalls. “I decided then to change.”

“When I changed to engineering, I was able to get a job tutoring in the LTC [Learning and Tutoring Center], and I quit my other jobs,” he says.

Kazentet also became an ENLISTEM, LSAMP, MESA and STEP scholar, tutoring other students as part of his responsibilities for these science, technology, engineering and math programs. Students receive a stipend for participating in these programs, and through these STEM initiatives, Kazentet was recently awarded a summer research opportunity at the University of Arizona. 

Because of the scholarship, Kazentet says he now is applying to a few more institutions, including Stanford University and the University of Southern California. He hopes to pursue a degree in petroleum engineering.


Related stories:

Two Georgia Perimeter students win Jack Kent Cooke scholarships

JKC scholarship recipient meets challenges head-on