Mechanical Engineering graduate earns Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship

By Eric Devlin
Mechanical Engineering graduate My Ly was recently named one of 60 high-achieving community college students to receive the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. Photo by Talia McLeod

Mechanical Engineering graduate My Ly was recently named one of 60 high-achieving community college students to receive the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. Photo by Talia McLeod

When it comes to her performance in college, My Ly knows she has a very important pair of eyes watching her every step – those of her 11-year-old sister, Avalyn.  

“I’m the eldest daughter and the first to go to college. We’re from immigrant parents, so she does not have many people to look up to about going to college,” said Ly. “I’m looking to break barriers and show her what’s possible. It’s rewarding for her to see me excel in school.”

Ly, 20, of Telford, is a 2024 Mechanical Engineering Science graduate from Montgomery County Community College, who was recently named a Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship.

My Ly receiving Jack Kent Cooke ScholarshipThe Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship is “a highly selective scholarship for the nation’s top community college students seeking to complete their bachelor’s degrees at four-year colleges or universities,” according to its website. “Each Cooke scholar has access to generous financial support for two to three years, college planning support, ongoing advising, and the opportunity to connect with the thriving community of fellow scholars.”

Ly will use the two-to-three-year scholarship, which carries a maximum possible amount of $55,000 a year, to complete a bachelor’s degree from Bucknell University beginning this fall. Ly won’t likely use the full amount though, due to the full-tuition scholarship she received from Bucknell as a transfer student who graduated from the Bucknell Community College Scholars Summer Program.

“Being a first-generation college student in engineering has not been an easy journey,” she said of the scholarship. “I'm so grateful for this generous support granted by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation-- It still feels surreal to me that my dreams can come true! I aim to maximize this opportunity to become a stronger and wiser version of myself so that I can help others do the same with their hopes and dreams.”

Humble beginnings

My Ly with her family Born in Vietnam and immigrated to the United States with her mom when she was 8 years old, Ly is the first in her family to go to college. She enrolled at the College as a high school Dual Enrollment student during her senior year at Souderton Area High School through an Early College Assistance Grant, which allowed recipients to take two courses at MCCC at free tuition.

“I was 18 at the time and was still unsure about how I was going to navigate life after high school since my family had no money saved up for college,” she said. “With the grant, I was able to take a Statistics and a financial literacy course online while completing my senior year. It was rigorous because I was also taking four other courses at the time, three of which were AP courses. But I still made it through with a 3.7 GPA at Montco.”

Through the Dual Enrollment program, which allows students 15 years old and older to attend College level courses on campus or at their high school, MCCC opened the doors to life for Ly after high school. When it came time to decide where to go next it was narrowed down to a four-year institution or two years with full tuition paid at MCCC. Ly chose to stay at the College.

“I’m so grateful for this opportunity through the Honors Program Scholarship that Montco offers,” she said. “I wish more students would take advantage of this aid. For someone like me who came from a family of farmers in Southern Vietnam, there is no such thing as having a generational savings ready for me to pay college tuition,” she said, “so I needed to face the realities of my financial situation. There was too much risk involved to commit to a four-year in case something financially happens, and I did not want to gain more debt with loans.”

Getting involved

The decision to stay at MCCC was ultimately a good one for her. She became incredibly involved on campus. Her first year on campus she joined the Honors Club, of which she became vice president and later president and the Sustainability Lab. She also joined Rotaract Club and became president after her first year. She also served as a senator on the Student Government Association before she was elected vice president. She was able to raise her GPA in the spring semester and was named to the Dean’s List as a result. Her second year she continued with the Honors Club and worked was a federal work study employee in the Wellness Center.

In addition, she was inducted into Tri-Alpha, the national honor society for first-generation college students, and was selected as the student speaker at the induction ceremony. In addition she is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honors society for two year colleges.

“That’s one of the resources that had led me to learn about the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation,” she said.

Engineering Associate Professor Chengyang Wang spoke highly of Ly’s work in and out of the classroom and said she was a role model for students.

“I have had the privilege of getting to know My and can attest to her academic potential and solid foundation,” he said. “My is an intelligent, dedicated, and amiable student who demonstrates a clear grasp of fundamental engineering principles.”

My Ly with MCCC President Dr. Victoria L. Bastecki-Perez“Her consistent academic performance reflects her attention to detail and proficiency in mathematics and physics,” he continued. “Notably, she excelled in group projects focused on engineering design analyses, showcasing her teamwork abilities. As the vice president of the Student Government Association, she is supportive both in and out of the classroom, which highlights her sense of responsibility and collaboration. Her aspiration to contribute to different areas of engineering is commendable and reflects her eagerness to learn and grow.”

Throughout her time at MCCC, Ly has championed women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Science as much as she can. In 2023, she attended the Launching Women Leaders Symposium to represent women in STEM fields because she said she wanted to set a precedent.

“It’s about breaking barriers,” she said, “inspiring little girls.”

The conference offered a chance to interact with women across a range of fields and discuss their unique and shared experiences. Ly appreciated the discussion about how it was OK to make a mistake.

“There’s pressure to be perfect,” she said. “Women in a field predominantly filled with men can feel if they make a mistake, they will further a stereotype. I was inspired by how transparent everyone was about their past mistakes. I learned to be more forgiving of myself and just keep going.”

In November 2023, Ly participated in the three-day Merck Automation Challenge, in which a cohort of Biotechnology, Engineering Science and Computer Science students at MCCC were invited by Merck & Co. to work together to prove or disprove the hypothesis that automation in science is a wasted effort. They needed to work together to program a robotic arm to help pipette 100 different volumes on liquid into vials and compute their pipetting accuracy.

“It was a good learning experience,” said Ly. “We also got to shadow Merck employees at the facility and see real robotics. It was a great opportunity to work with employees directly.”

Bright future ahead

This summer, Ly will attend a three-month, all-expense-paid research opportunity at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. She’ll be among students researching the use of microrobots in medical applications.

“I’m really excited,” she said.

In the days leading to graduation, Ly reflected of her time at MCCC.

“Montco helped prepare me for higher education and financially supported me,” she said. “it’s hard to leave campus where I started. In the future, I will come back definitely to support community college education.”

“I’m very grateful for the help I received,” she continued. “From professors, advisors, Student Life, and staff around campus, everyone has been friendly and supportive. I felt like I had a voice on campus. I’m grateful.”