NJIT Junior Richard Ossa, of Clifton, was selected as one of the first to be named an Obama Scholar in a competitive process by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF). The scholarship is funded by money President Barack Obama donated to HSF upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. HSF designated that the donation be used to help Hispanic students interested in teaching in the science, technology engineering and mathematics fields.
Ossa is majoring in chemical engineering at NJIT’s Newark College of Engineering. He hopes one day to obtain his doctorate and teach college. The scholarship is for $2,500 and 11 other students across the U.S. are also part of this first class of Obama Scholars.
(ATTENTION EDITORS: For interviews with Ossa, call Sheryl Weinstein, 973-973-596-3436.)
Ossa transferred to NJIT following his graduation from Passaic Community College. His parents, who were born in Colombia and emigrated to the U.S. nine years ago when Ossa was 13. “I’m the first one in my family to attend college,” he said. “My parents inspire and drive me to do well. They moved here for a reason: To give my sister and me a better life. I’d like to honor their wishes.”
“We congratulate Richard on this honor. We feel indebted to him as he exemplifies the hopes and dreams of so many students and families. We know Richard will be a role model within his family and community to assist others in pursuing higher education—that is the whole foundation of our ‘Generation 1st Degree’ initiative. It aims to help at least one person in each Latino household earn a degree. We also congratulate Richard’s family and the entire NJIT community for the roles they play in his success,” says Frank Alvarez, president and CEO, HSF.
When Ossa arrived in the US, he couldn’t speak English. Thanks, however, to the ESL classes he attended in middle school in Clifton, he was able to go on to Clifton High School where he graduated with honors. To cover expenses, he’ll use the HSF scholarship for tuition plus take advantage of federal aid while working part-time in a Passaic pharmacy. “The scholarship will definitely help,” he added. “It will pay for half a semester of tuition.”
The scholarship is motivating too. “It makes me realize that there are people out there willing to help,” he said. At HSF’s initial Education Summit, held at the Time Warner Center in New York City, Ossa met executives who touched his heart and helped him see a future path because they, too, are first-generation Hispanics. One of them, a vice president at Procter & Gamble who worked his way up, especially inspired him.
At the summit, HSF launched Generation 1st Degree, which seeks to close the degree gap that exists between Hispanic students and their peers. In addition, HSF sees the initiative as a catalyst for a national conversation about higher education and the economy. In 35 years, HSF has awarded close to $300 million in scholarships to more than 50,000 students in need. Two-thirds of these students were the first in their families to go to college.
HSF’s mission is to strengthen America by advancing the college education of Hispanic Americans. The organization delivers a range of programs to Hispanic families and students through community outreach and education, affordability via scholarships, college retention and career opportunities. HSF supports a successful path for Latinos to attain a college degree—creating an increasingly valuable asset for a stronger, more competitive America in the 21st century.