City Colleges of Chicago Student Wins Prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship


Wright College’s Heather Atherton Wins Up to $40,000 per Year to Cover Tuition, Books, and Living Expenses as She Completes her Bachelor’s Degree

Chicago, IL — Wright College student, City Colleges Luminary Award recipient, Newman Civic Fellow, mom, and now Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholar – it seems there is nothing that Heather Atherton can’t do.

Heather is one of only 50 students across the nation and one of two students in Illinois who have received the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship. More than 1,500 community college students applied for the award, which provides up to $40,000 per year to pay for tuition, living expenses, books, and other fees at a four year college or university for winners to complete a bachelor’s degree. So far, Heather has been accepted to Lake Forest College, DePaul University, and Northeastern Illinois University, and is waiting to hear from Yale University and Columbia University New York.

After graduating from high school and having her daughter, Heather worked in the food service industry. About a decade in, she decided she needed to make a change. Her parents, who hadn’t been able to go to college themselves, always impressed on her the importance of a college education. She wanted to go to college, but wasn’t sure what she wanted to study until she talked with a friend who was studying to be a paralegal at Wright College.

“Being a paralegal seemed like a stable job and I had always been interested in law,” explained Heather. “When my friend highly recommended the program he was in at Wright, I made the move.”

One semester at Wright gave her the confidence to quit what was, in her own words, a “horrible job.”

“More than an exceptional student, Heather Atherton is an exceptional person. She’s made a difference at Wright in the classroom, in her program, in community engagement, and in the college’s work in civic learning and engagement. She’s made a tremendous impression on the Wright community. Personally and on behalf of the college, we’re thrilled for her and look forward to seeing her future successes,” said Wright College President David Potash.

She appreciated the Wright College faculty, who were all attorneys who taught her exactly what would be expected of her in the legal field from their first-hand experiences. Not only did she excel in her school work while raising her daughter as a single mom, she also jumped into civic engagement in her community as an election judge and helping people register to vote. When her political science teacher suggested she apply for the Newman Civic Fellowship, which recognizes and supports community-committed students who are change makers and public problem-solvers, she applied and was accepted.

Now, she is working on creating a civic engagement scorecard that would show students different ways to get engaged in their community through classes and service learning. She is also wrapping up her last semester in Wright College’s paralegal program. Ultimately, she sees a future in legal and civic matters.