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For immediate release — Aug. 17, 2011

(DALLAS) — Potential, purpose and determination can be hard traits to quantify, but 12 Dallas County Community College District students demonstrating those qualities through their actions have been awarded Muse Scholarships for the 2011-2012 academic year. The scholarship also takes into consideration educational goals and a deep work ethic, along with demonstrated community leadership and academic excellence.

Created and funded by long-time DCCCD Foundation supporters Lyn and John Muse of Dallas, the Muse Scholarship Program fully supports each recipient’s costs in college — including tuition, books and additional fees — to meet the requirements of either the certificate program or degree plan in which the student is enrolled. Students may receive the Muse Scholarship for up to six consecutive semesters.

“Determination and potential are key characteristics we look for in our Muse scholars,” said Betheny Reid, associate vice chancellor of development and president of the DCCCD Foundation. “Lyn and John Muse believe in those traits, as well as a strong work ethic and clear educational goals. Each recipient exhibits those characteristics, and we are excited to have them as students at DCCCD. They are future leaders, and we hope to help them reach their educational and professional goals.”

This year’s new Muse Scholars, their hometowns, colleges and intended majors are:

  • Ian Bell of DeSoto, Cedar Valley College, business
  • Ahmed Rashad Elhelw of Addison, Brookhaven College, geographic information systems
  • Sharon Ji of Dallas, North Lake College, biology
  • Katherine Johnson of Waxahachie, Cedar Valley College, film production
  • Chi Nhan Nguyen of Garland, Richland College, science
  • Michael Packer of Richardson, Richland College, accounting
  • Colby Purcell of Rockwall, Richland College, engineering
  • Erika Quinn of Garland, Richland College, architecture
  • Stephan Sawin of Glenn Heights, Mountain View College, business management

Returning Muse Scholars include:

  • Denisse Reynoso of Farmers Branch, North Lake College, architecture
  • Sheri Strickley of Grand Prairie, Mountain View and El Centro colleges, nursing
  • Dacota Scott Taylor of Emory, Richland College, broadcast journalism

For more information, contact Kathye Hammontree, DCCCD Foundation director of board and donor relations, at 214-378-1536; or Eddie Miranda, DCCCD Foundation director of marketing and communications, at 214-378-1541.

Biographical sketches of this year’s DCCCD Muse Scholars follow.

Biographical Sketches of 2011-2012 DCCCD Muse Scholars

New Muse Scholars

Ian Bell • DeSoto • Cedar Valley College • Business

Ian Bell is already working on his business and leadership skills and hopes one day to manage a family business. At 19, he was named the youngest manager at his workplace, Dollar General Corp., where he works full time in addition to carrying a full course load as a student at Cedar Valley College. But his motivation to lead also came from an intensely personal perspective, at the age of 14 serving as sole caretaker for his mother while she was dying of cancer. “That was the hardest job I have had to date,” he says, “and it taught me strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of fear and leadership when I wanted to quietly fade into the background.” Bell has since received the Director’s Award for the highest GPA in the college’s Upward Bound program (a federal program for low-income and first-generation-to-college students) as well as the Sons of the American Revolution Medal in Junior ROTC, and has been named to Phi Theta Kappa, the academic honor society for two-year colleges. He participates in youth ministry at his church and has served as section leader for the tenors in the church youth choir. “The challenges that we go through in life, big or small, later allow us to be strong leaders in the years to come for ourselves and the generations we will give birth to,” he says. “Five years ago, I thought my life was over when my mother passed, but I stand today showing that her death gave me stability to stand through any trial.”

Ahmed Rashad Elhelw • Addison • Brookhaven College • Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Originally from Egypt, where he grew up, Ahmed Rashad Elhelw wanted to honor his father’s wishes to continue his college studies in the U.S., though his father died barely a month after Elhelw arrived in the States. He had previously completed an air conditioning and refrigeration degree in Egypt, as well as college-level business administration and computer science courses, both with top grades. He began classes at Brookhaven College in January 2010 with two semesters of English as a Second Language, maintaining a 4.0 GPA. Now fluent in English as well as his native Arabic, he dreams of becoming a petroleum engineer and earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees after he graduates from Brookhaven’s GIS program. He serves as historian for the college’s Student Government Association (SGA), has attended regional and national conferences for the organization, and has helped raise money for community outreach. He works part time for Brookhaven’s Student Life Center, using his earnings to pay for tuition, fees and books. “My family in Egypt has limited resources,” he says. “Two years ago, I never dreamt that I would ever be able to go to the U.S. to attend college. I always had a dream to study engineering; once I had the opportunity to study in the U.S., I was so happy to see my dreams becoming a reality.” He maintains a 4.0 GPA at Brookhaven College.

Sharon Ji • Dallas • North Lake College • Biology

Sharon Ji wants not only to become a pediatric surgeon but to use her medical expertise to volunteer for the World Health Organization in a developing country. Currently working three jobs and living on her own, she attributes some of her own determination to succeed to witnessing her parents’ disappointments of losing a self-owned business to bankruptcy and their dream house to foreclosure. Told by her parents that she was “thinking past their dreams,” she lost their financial support and left home with $80 in her pocket to seek her own way of life. “Self-sacrifice, hard work, fortitude, perseverance and personal responsibilities were many personal characteristics I acquired along the way,” she says. At Grand Prairie High School, she was valedictorian, received the Rochester University Humanitarian Award and served as president of the National Honor Society. She has also volunteered for a nursing home and Habitat for Humanity, and has worked paying jobs as diverse as restaurant hostess, parking attendant, tutor and chiropractic assistant. “The testimony I leave behind is not of sad and broken memories of my parents’ regrets and my misgivings,” she says. “I will bear witness to my own life.”

Katherine Johnson • Waxahachie • Cedar Valley College • Film Production

Theater and public speaking skills can go far beyond the stage, and Katherine Johnson intends to use her experience from Cedar Valley College’s theater productions to become a filmmaker, director, producer and writer. Honing her presentation, leadership and management skills over numerous years participating in the college’s Family Music Theatre, she has served in capacities from actress and assistant stage manager to technical responsibilities that include costume and set design, and production videotaping. She has served as coordinator for Operation Christmas Child, a religious not-for-profit organization; and as an event planner for her church. She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the academic honor society for two-year colleges, and is certified as a College Reading and Learning Association Tutor II, teaching English and developmental math. “People who get things done right are people who have a vision,” she says. “A true leader is one who not only remains on the mission themselves, but one who can inspire others to continue even when there is no hope in sight.”

Chi Nhan Nguyen • Garland • Richland College • Science

Chi Nhan Nguyen hopes to become a pharmacist and biochemical engineer, with the goal of protecting both the health of individuals and the environment at large. After high school graduation, he spent six months volunteering full time for his church to help design a 57,000-square-foot school and auditorium project, for which he promoted sustainable design. He also works with the church’s youth organization to help plan events, as well as cook and serve food on weekends, and has volunteered in health education at Parkland Hospital and with the Red Cross assisting hurricane victims. Nguyen maintains a GPA of 3.88 at Richland College, where he is earning an associate degree, and plans to transfer to a four-year institution to complete a bachelor’s degree in engineering or another science-related field. The first person in his extended family to attend college, he says the Muse Scholarship has given him the opportunity to continue his education without the burden of incurring more student loans. “To get an education is the beginning of my career to discover new ideas of developing efficient, eco-friendly products, eliminate errors in engineering or other science fields, and teach individuals to live a healthier lifestyle,” he says.

Michael Packer • Richardson • Richland College • Accounting

Earning an associate degree with a field of study in business at Richland College is just the first step in the higher education plan of Michael Packer, who also plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting and perhaps a master’s degree in health care management some day. He maintains a 4.0 GPA in his college studies and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the academic honor society for two-year colleges. He has done volunteer work with his church since he was in sixth grade, in numerous capacities including serving on the youth leadership board, representing his local Synod in a nationwide assembly and performing with the contemporary musical worship team. Some of his favorite volunteer experiences include teaching summer school in New Orleans and taking a mission trip to Puerto Rico. He works as an instructional assistant for RISD’s after-school PACE program, tutoring second graders, and at high school graduation was awarded the Service Learning Award Medallion for his volunteer activities. He describes himself as “caring, hard-working and positive, ready to help the world with my strong leadership skills.”

Colby Purcell • Rockwall • Richland College • Engineering

Colby Purcell believes that her leadership abilities as a music teacher and director will serve her well as she shifts career direction. She plans to earn an associate degree in engineering at Richland College with the dream of eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. She holds a bachelor’s degree in piano pedagogy from the University of Tennessee and last year served as music coordinator for a body of 15 church congregations in the east Dallas area, as well as serving as a volunteer accompanist for numerous choirs and school groups. She was a 2010-2011 DCCCD STEM Student Support Award scholar and participated in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program at Johnson Space Center in Houston in spring 2011. "I am studying engineering at Richland College and am aware that though music may not be math, the qualities that go into leadership are the same no matter what you do or who you are working with,” she says. “One of the great virtues of a leader is the ability to listen to others, and another is to treat those you lead with respect. Overall, however, the greatest thing that I have learned in my experience is that a person who is a true leader is one who serves the people he or she leads.” Purcell maintains a 4.0 GPA at Richland College.

Erika Quinn • Garland • Richland College • Architecture

The first in her family to attend college, Erika Quinn feels the weight of her family’s expectations on her shoulders. With the goal of becoming an architect with her own business or even an “imagineer” for Disney theme parks, she wants her career goals to follow her “passion for creating and making my visions become a reality.” Recipient of the Garland ISD Academic Excellence Award three years in a row and a member of the National Honor Society and National Spanish Honor Society, she currently holds a 3.7 GPA at Richland College. She tutored younger students at Rowlett High School and participated in several volunteer activities such as food drives, Toys for Tots and March of Dimes. Covering all of her own extra living expenses, including education, she works as an assistant manager at Rowlett Bowlarama, having worked her way up the job ladder from party host and snack bar cashier. “Above all, I believe in responsibility,” she says. “It is important to have priorities in life and more important to follow them through.”

Stephan Sawin • Glenn Heights • Mountain View College • Business Management

Stephan Sawin has already begun practical experience in the business arena, having held jobs on a janitorial crew, as a shift leader in a pizza restaurant, and in his current position as asset protection specialist at a Best Buy in Cedar Hill, where he helps account for workplace keys and tools. Active as a youth leader in his church, he leads a home Bible study group and has coordinated study groups at Mountain View College. Maintaining a college GPA of 3.96, he is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the academic honor society for two-year colleges; received the Presidential Honors Award in 2008 and 2010; and is also a member of the college’s Sigma Delta Mu Spanish Honor Society. After earning an associate degree in business management at Mountain View, he plans to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well to work first for an established company and perhaps one day go into the music business on his own. “Ultimately, I can see my career advancing to the point of fulfilling my dream: training and working with a team of outstanding individuals and managing a successful business, or even multiple small businesses,” he says. “As I continue to learn, I would love to start my own business and even enter new fields such as the music industry and manage artists or promote concerts and tours. I know I can succeed because of my passion and strong work ethic.”


Returning Muse Scholars

Denisse Reynoso • Farmers Branch • North Lake College • Architecture

With her eye on a career in architecture, Denisse Reynoso plans to complete her associate degree from North Lake College and then transfer to a university to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees. A 2010 graduate of R.L. Turner High School, she also may become a mathematics teacher so that she can give back to her community. At Turner, Reynoso was a dual credit student, and she served as an officer of PRIDE, an organization that helps reduce high school dropout rates; was social officer for the drill team; and recruited students to attend the 2010 Hispanic Youth Symposium (for which she received a scholarship from Southern Methodist University and a grant from the symposium organizers).

Sheri Strickley • Grand Prairie • Mountain View and El Centro colleges • Nursing

Grand Prairie resident Sheri Strickley is taking classes for her major in nursing at both Mountain View and El Centro colleges. Having already spent 20 years in medically related fields and currently working full time scheduling patients for diagnostic testing in a private doctor’s office, she plans to specialize in pediatrics or sports medicine nursing. She has served as a mentor for Special Olympics, is a certified coach for co-ed volleyball and basketball, and is a board member for the local Special Olympics organization. A member of Phi Theta Kappa, the academic honor society for two-year colleges, Strickley chose the field of nursing after one of her sons was born with tuberous sclerosis and went through numerous tests and treatments. “I knew that I wanted to help people and be compassionate to their needs,” she recalls. “During this time, I set my goal to become a nurse. I believe that helping others is a true calling for me.”

Dacota Scott Taylor • Emory • Richland College • Broadcast Journalism

Already involved in television reporting as a dual credit high school and college student, Dacota Scott Taylor is making plans to earn associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in broadcast journalism with the career goal of becoming a news anchor and director. A resident of Emory, he attends Richland College, where he has served as reporter and news director for KDUX-TV. He is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the academic honor society for two-year colleges, and has been named twice to the President’s Honor List. Ranked first in the state and 15th in the nation in Junior Olympic Archery, he hopes to earn a spot on the U.S Olympic archery team for the summer 2016 Olympics. He has been awarded the William H. Danforth “I Dare You” Leadership Award for both his dedication to broadcast journalism and competitive archery. “I feel like my goal in life is to become one of the greatest journalists to ever live, the best anchor in the world and the most respected news director ever to be seen in a newsroom,” he says. “It is important to aim high.”

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Press contacts: Kathye Hammontree • 214-378-1536 • or
Eddie Miranda • 214-378-1541 •