Shawna-Kaye Lester ’08 wins Jack Kent Cooke graduate scholarship

Shawna-Kaye Lester ’08

Shawna-Kaye Lester of St. Catherine, Jamaica, a 2008 graduate of Bates College, has won a prestigious and lucrative graduate scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

A double major in biological chemistry and Spanish at Bates, Lester will use her award to pursue an ambitious sequence of graduate programs to hone her leadership skills in healthcare management. Her multiyear Cooke scholarship is worth up to $50,000 annually for up to six years.

“I am interested in how healthcare resources are used, even if they’re scarce. I am interested in how healthcare can provide for everyone — not just people who can afford it,” Lester said, adding a dose of her social-justice perspective: “Refugee or royalty, no one life is more important than another.”

One of just 35 Jack Kent Cooke scholars chosen from 957 nominated students, Lester graduated from Bates as a published chemist, accomplished dancer and musician and, having studied abroad extensively, an experienced cultural observer.

“Shawna-Kaye Lester is among the strongest and most promising 10 students in my 30 years at Bates.”— Bill Hiss ’66, vice president

She is the third Bates graduate to win a Cooke graduate scholarship in the program’s seven years.

Lester has mapped a nine-year graduate journey that starts with master’s studies at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She then hopes to study epidemiology at the University of Oxford and conclude with integrated medical and business studies.

Lester’s deep reservoir of ambition and talent is well-known at Bates.

“Shawna-Kaye Lester is among the strongest and most promising 10 students in my 30 years at Bates,” wrote longtime Bates dean, teacher and vice president William C. Hiss ’66 in recommending Lester. “She has intellectual gifts and discipline…and is a global citizen with stunningly broad talents across widely different fields.”

At Bates, she was known for her “integrity of character, sympathy for those in need, leadership, physical strength and energy,” he added.

In 2007, Lester used a Phillips Student Fellowship to follow the Ndere dance troupe of Uganda from Brooklyn, N.Y., back to its homeland, learning along the way how traditional dance can inspire the present. For her Spanish senior thesis, she focused on the Afro-Peruvian community from the 1950s to today.

Early in her Bates academic career, she worked in the lab of Tom Wenzel, Charles A. Dana Professor of Chemistry, an experience that yielded Lester’s coauthorship, with Wenzel, of an article in Tetrahedron: Asymmetry. For her senior biochemistry thesis, she researched RNA interference biotechnology, a project inspired in part by her mother, an asthmatic.

As a first-year student, Lester was named a Dana Scholar for her academic promise; as a graduating senior, she was elected to the College Key, the honorary Bates alumni organization for service and leadership.

A Christian, Lester likens the Cooke scholarship to a “divine trust fund.” Through the Bates Christian Fellowship, she volunteered with the UrbanPromise ministry in Camden, N.J., with Students International in Guatemala and with the Maine-based Rural Community Action Ministry. In 2005 she founded Eagles Breakaway, an aspirational program that brings together young people worldwide to share stories about education’s liberating power.

She danced competitively with the Bates Ballroom Dance Society, played the upright bass in the orchestra and was active in Bates Student Government and Amandla!, the Bates student organization focusing on the experiences of African American and African-descent students.

Bates’ two previous Cooke scholars are Matteo Pangallo, a 2003 alumnus who studied Shakespeare at the Globe Theater and King’s College in London; and Jason Rafferty, a 2005 graduate who is studying medicine and public health at Harvard Medical School.

Now in its seventh year, the Jack Kent Cooke graduate scholarship program is among the most generous of its kind. The 2008 scholars intend to study in a range of fields in the natural sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities, including medicine, philosophy, law, landscape architecture, social work and creative writing.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is a private, independent foundation established by Jack Kent Cooke to help young people of exceptional promise reach their full potential through education. Launched in 2000, the Foundation focuses in particular on students with financial need.