Long Island City, NY—Harmonie Kobanghe, a LaGuardia Community College honor student and campus leader whose commitment to social justice is leading her to a law degree and a career as a human rights activist for Congolese women who were victims of war, is the recipient of 2012 Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, a premier national scholarship.
The gift, which supports high-achieving students with financial needs, will provide Harmonie, who is transferring to Georgetown University, with $30,000 a year throughout her undergraduate experience. The LaGuardia scholarship winner was one of 60 scholars selected from a field of 786 applicants from 349 community colleges that not only demonstrated outstanding records of achievement, but also service, leadership and community involvement. The scholar will be eligible for further funding for her graduate studies.
For the international student who does not qualify for financial aid, she said this scholarship will help her to achieve her academic and career goals. “I struggled to pay for my tuition at LaGuardia and was wondering if I would be able to continue my education,” she said. “Now, not only can I continue my education, but the scholarship is providing me with many more options.”
Her goal to aid women who were the tragic victims of civil war and rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo, her parent’s homeland, was shaped by the isolation and racism she experienced as a black woman growing up in the seedy neighborhoods of France.
Fearing that her daughter would fall victim to that environment, her mother sent her to a Catholic boarding school in Brittany, where she found herself to be one of only three black students. Encountering constant ostracism and racism, Harmonie found solace in books and her academic studies.
Upon receiving word that her grandmother fell ill, Harmonie returned to Paris where she continued her education at a selective high school that awarded her a scholarship. Once again she excelled academically, but was shunned by her peers. “However, the fact that I was a perpetual minority in these two environments inspired me to endure in my intellectual journey with the goal of seeking social justice,” she said.
That journey continued at LaGuardia when she was visiting a relative in New York and decided to register in 2009 at LaGuardia. In this supportive environment, where she was no longer a minority, the once shy and reserved student, flourished.
Throughout her three years at the college, the liberal arts: social science and humanities major had a stellar academic career, maintaining a 3.94 G.P.A. As one of the top students in the Honors Program, Harmonie not only completed the Honors Concentration by taking at least seven Honors courses, but this past spring she took two Honors courses, breaking the program’s record.
Dr. Karlyn Koh, English professor and the Honors Program Director, who helped Harmonie through the arduous application process, pointed out that Harmonie not only created a course of study that revolved around Honors and upper-level courses across the curriculum, but went beyond her degree requirements to study subjects that will benefit her intellectual and academic growth such as Honors calculus, microeconomics and macroeconomics.
“There is no doubt that even among her academically motivated peers, including the 250 students in the Honors Program, Harmonie has set the bar very high,” said Dr. Koh.
“Harmonie’s achievements are simply outstanding,” said Dr. Gail O. Mellow, President of LaGuardia. “Her potential to improve our world is unlimited. Each year, across the nation, community colleges are educating students with the skills, knowledge and passion of a person like Harmonie. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is to be applauded for recognizing and supporting the talented students that emerge from LaGuardia and other community colleges.”
Along with distinguishing herself as a scholar, she developed into a skillful college leader. She served as a chapter officer of the PTK Honors Society, and went on to be elected vice president of PTK New York Region Southern District.
“It is safe to say that Hamonie was one of the chapter’s pillars,” said Dr. John Chaffee, a philosophy professor and Honors Program advisor, adding that thanks in large measure to her leadership skills, the chapter won the 2011 New York Regional and a 2011 International Distinguished College Project awards.
She served as a founding member of the Honors Program’s Honors Students Advisory Committee, which organizes activities and events for the honors student community, and was appointed co-chair. She also has led peer workshops on transfer application strategies and was a French language tutor.
As a passionate human rights advocate, Harmonie selected extracurricular projects that would fulfill her interests in social justice. After learning in her U.S. Power and Politics class that the criminal justice system is bias toward African-American males, she decided to learn first hand how the system operates by volunteering as a social counselor at the Grievance Program at Rikers Island.
An internship at the office of New York State Malcolm A. Smith, through the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus CUNY Scholars Program, allowed her to address another one of her concerns: stopping gun violence. After her internships she stayed on as a volunteer to another year.
“I believe that by helping Harmonie achieve her educational goals through this scholarship,” said Dr. Bojana Blagojevic, a LaGuardia social science professor, “we are supporting a future leader and a human rights activist who will use her education to make a positive difference in our world.”
The only obstacle Harmonie faced during her three years at LaGuardia was her struggles to pay tuition. A year before graduating she had to consider dropping out when her grandmother, who was contributing to her tuition, passed away. The College’s Foundation filled the void by awarding the honor student several scholarships that helped cover her tuition costs.
Looking toward graduating in June, Harmonie has clearly laid out her academic and career paths. At Georgetown, Harmonie will be majoring in international relations with a minor in women’s and gender studies. “This program will provide me with a strong cross cultural understanding of the interconnections among globalization, human rights abuse and sexual violence against women,” she said.
After earning a bachelor’s degree she plans on completing a law degree with a focus on international women human’s rights. Ultimately, as a human rights lawyer, she hopes to create an international organization to help the women of the Congo who were victims of violence and war reclaim their lives, become empowered, and gain a voice in the governance of their countries.
“Whenever I reflect on my educational path, I see that I have only been able to accomplish so much because of the support of people who believe in my passion,” said Harmonie. “It is therefore my duty to be of similar service to others. So I always keep in sight my dream of going to the Congo to improve the lives of others, just like others have done for me.”
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LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.