Feature Stories

Meet Richard Ossa: An Obama Scholar

Ossa, a junior majoring in chemical engineering, was recently named an Obama Scholar

Richard Ossa, a junior at NJIT, won a scholarship funded by President Obama. 

Richard, a chemical engineering major, was one of 12 students in the nation to win an Obama Scholarship.  The scholarship was given to him by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.

Last year, when President Obama won the Noble Peace Price, he donated part of his prize money to the fund. Officials at the fund used his donation for scholarships, with each Obama Scholar receiving $2,500. The First Family even wrote Richard a note, congratulating him.

“The Obama Scholarship definitely will help me pay my tuition, which is great,” said Richard. “But it will also motivate me to study harder.”

Richard is a diligent student with a strong work ethic, which is why he won the scholarship.  Ten years ago, his family left Colombia to come to America. Richard was 13. He didn’t know a word of English. The family settled in Clifton, N.J., where he enrolled in the local middle school.

He recalls overhearing people say he’d never amount to anything in America, since he couldn’t speak English. So he set his mind to mastering English.  He loved math and did well in all his math and science classes.  His teachers (especially his Italian teacher) saw that he had drive and talent and encouraged him.  He listened, and by the time he was a senior he had not only mastered English but his grades were such that he graduated from Clifton High School with distinguished honors.   

He couldn’t afford to attend a four-year college, so he enrolled in nearby Passaic County Community College, where he studied Engineering Science. While taking classes, he also worked full time in a local pharmacy to pay his tuition. He graduated with an associate’s degree in 2009.  He did so well in community college that in January of 2010 he was accepted at his dream school: NJIT.

He’s now a junior studying chemical engineering.  He always liked chemistry and, since he liked math, chemical engineering was the perfect major for him. He hopes to earn a doctorate in chemical engineering and to one day work as a professor.  Meanwhile, he still works part time at the pharmacy to pay his bills; he lives at home in Clifton to save money.  His classes at NJIT, he says, are demanding. He’s struggling a bit now but vows to improve his grade-point average.

Neither of his parents went to college. His father works at a furniture store in Passaic and his mother works in a doctor’s office. They left Colombia and came to America so that Richard and his 13-year-old sister could be educated here -- live better lives and find the American dream. Richard fully intends to fulfill their dreams.   

“My parents left Colombia for America for a reason -- to give us better lives,” he says.  “They didn’t have the chance to go to college and they always tell us to go for our dreams. They’ve always motivated me and now, with the Obama Scholarship, I’m extra motivated to succeed.”

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)