HawkStrong: Soliman Touelh receives national Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship

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Chardin Claybourne on the left and Soliman Touelh on the right.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation announced that HFC student Soliman Touelh (pronounced “Twee-la”) has been awarded its highly competitive national Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship.

“I was between classes at the Honors Hub when I found out I was selected,” said Touelh, of Dearborn Heights. “I was excited and honored. I called my mom and dad, and they were excited too. We went out that night and celebrated!”

One of 3 HFC students ever to win this prestigious scholarship

This year, 459 community college students were chosen as semifinalists from a pool of more than 1,600 applicants from 37 states and territories. Of the semifinalists, only 60 were selected – less than 8%. Several other highly qualified HFC students have been semifinalists for the scholarship over the years, and two others have won it: Diana Jomaa in 2014 and Neam Alazawi in 2011.

“I’m very humbled by all this. It’s also a great honor to know that I’m the only semifinalist from HFC,” said Touelh. “There are so many bright-minded people in the Henry Ford II Honors Program who are getting ready to graduate from the College. I hope they apply for this scholarship, too.”

This scholarship aims to help community college students who have demonstrated exceptional academic ability, service, and leadership as they transfer to 4-year universities nationally. The award can provide as much as $55,000 per year for 2-3 years to complete a bachelor’s degree at any accredited 4-year university in the United States. Many scholarship recipients enroll at top-tier institutions.

About one-third of students starting their education at community colleges transfer to earn a bachelor’s degree. But only 16% actually earn that degree within six years. The Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship represents a unique opportunity, providing crucial support for transfer students to overcome barriers and successfully attain their bachelor’s degrees.

“In light of the challenges that hinder many community college students from achieving their goal of earning a bachelor’s degree, our Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship makes the journey more achievable and helps to eliminate the challenge of student debt,” said JCKF Executive Director Giuseppe Basili. “The exceptional pool of talent among this year’s semifinalists from community colleges showcases the vast potential within these institutions.”

Always be creative and think outside of the box

The eldest of seven, Touelh was born in Budapest, Hungaria. His family immigrated to the U.S. when he was 5. They moved to Michigan when he was 7 because his father, Ahmed, earned a graduate fellowship to pursue a doctorate in civil engineering at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Touelh, who speaks English and Arabic, is an alumnus of Franklin High School in Livonia, where his overall GPA was 3.5. At Franklin, he was the manager of the Kite and Key School Store, where he oversaw his fellow student employees, the budget, and helped implement a new software system.

“I’ve always been interested in computers since I was a kid. One of my biggest heroes is (the late Apple Inc. co-founder) Steve Jobs, whose philosophy was to always be creative and to think outside of the box,” said Touelh. “My family wanted me to go into medicine, but I’ve always been more attracted to computers and technology.”

Touelh and his father toured several college campuses in the Metro Detroit area, including HFC. He met then-Honors Program Director Dr. Adam Hazlett and they spoke at length about what the College could offer him. After a family discussion, Touelh enrolled at HFC.

“Director Hazlett helped me understand what I might do here as a computer science major and how I could benefit the Honors Program in my own way,” said Touelh.

“Soliman is one of the most ambitious students I’ve ever met”

During his time at HFC, Touleh has been a member of the Honors Program, the HFC Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), and the Mathematics Club. He is also an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow and served as the president of the HFC Programming Club. This fall, he plans to transfer and work toward his bachelor’s degree in computer science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Several HFC instructors have really had a positive impact on Touelh, including computer science instructor Kimberly Moscardelli (who is also his honors mentor), and math instructors Sam Bazzi and Dr. Rama Chidambaram. "Soliman Touelh is a very caring person who enjoys learning and loves sharing what he learned with other students. He is a great team player,” said Chidambaram.

HFC Honors Program Director and the PTK advisor Chardin Claybourne has had many opportunities to work with Touelh.

“Soliman is one of the most ambitious students I’ve met,” said Claybourne. “It’s not surprising that he was awarded the Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship; I regularly witness him in the Honors Hub studying at all hours. He’s continuing to put in the work to earn his success and applying the life lessons that will propel him toward his goals.” He added with a laugh: “Just don’t get him started on who is the best Hip Hop artist, unless you want to have a long conversation!”

Being creative together

Like Jobs, Touelh’s dream is to run his own computer technology company one day.

“It would not only give people in my field a chance to succeed, but also people from every field a chance to succeed,” he said. “Creativity comes from everywhere. People have to come together to be creative; that’s the culture I want in my own company.”

Touelh’s experience at HFC changed his life, and his outlook.

“The professors at the College want to teach here. They want you to be here, and they want you to succeed,” he said. “They will do whatever they can to help you be successful. From my own experience, they all want you to be creative. These factors are why attending HFC has been such a pleasure.”

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