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The Newman Office of Prestigious Scholarships Puts Hunter Students on the Map

Gabriella Cook-Francis ’17 was the perfect candidate for the prestigious Marshall Scholarship, but she was initially hesitant to apply. “A strong push from OPS made all the difference,” she says.

OPS is Hunter’s Ruth & Harold Newman Office of Prestigious Scholarships and Fellowships. Since its creation just two years ago, it has helped a record number of Hunter students win highly selective academic awards in a field traditionally dominated by students from the Ivies and other elite schools.

In December,  Cook-Francis became the second Hunter student to win the Marshall, with the big news announced on the same day that three Hunter students were named as the College’s first winners of the highly selective Schwarzman prize.

Their achievements—and the transformative impact of OPS—were recognized by NY1 this week as one of the biggest and best education stories of 2018.

The creation of OPS represented the culmination of a long-held dream for Hunter President Jennifer J. Raab, who knew that the College’s bright and accomplished students could compete with their peers from top private colleges if they had access to the same support and resources those students have long enjoyed.

“In this world, we talk a lot about opportunities,” says President Raab. “But you have to level the playing field.”

President Raab reached out to two Hunter supporters who shared her vision—alumna Ruth Newman ’54, a longtime trustee of the Hunter College Foundation, and Ruth’s husband, Harold—and the couple generously made an endowment gift of $1 million to create OPS.

With that gift, President Raab recruited Dr. Stephen Lassonde, who had been the dean of student life at Harvard, to lead the office. Now, Dr. Lassonde engages the College’s most promising scholars from their first days at Hunter, helping them identify award opportunities, create resumes, practice for interviews and make their applications shine. He also holds intensive four-day writing workshops, where students learn how to write successful essays for their applications.

“In the Ivy League, students have this kind of help all the way through school,” Dr. Lassonde says. “At Hunter, students always had the intellectual wherewithal to win these awards, but no knowledge of the steps they had to take.”

Thanks to the creation of OPS, that is no longer the case, and the results have been remarkable. Since the fall of 2016, Hunter has also seen its first Rhodes Scholar, Thamara Jean ’18. Gabriella Cook-Francis followed in the footsteps of her classmate Faiza Masood ’17 to win the Marshall. And last year, the College celebrated its second Luce Scholar, Matthew LoCastro ’17, and second Truman Scholar, Safia Mahjebin ’19. Hunter has also maintained its status as a top Fulbright producer, with six recent graduates accepting Fulbright offers in 2018.

Watch out, Harvard. The playing field has been leveled.

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