As a teenager, Maria Sckaff heard about the mutilation of Aesha Mohammadzai, whose Taliban husband and his family attacked her, cutting off her nose and ears as punishment for her leaving her violent husband. Not only was Lazaro moved by her story, but she also wondered if physicians would ever be able to restore the appearance of Aesha Mohammadzai’s and others like her. Through science, Sckaff realized that she could participate in the healing of physical scars.
In May, Sckaff will graduate from Cochise College with an Associate of Science in Biology and an Associate of Science in Engineering. Originally from Brazil and a Buena High School graduate, Sckaff is one of 47 recipients of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. There is less than a 2 percent chance of winning the scholarship; this year, nearly 2,500 students applied for the Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. Among these, Sckaff was one of two students awarded in Arizona.
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation evaluated each submission based on academic ability, persistence, leadership, and service to others. This year’s recipients have a median adjusted gross income of $5,000 and an average GPA of 3.92. Biological sciences, engineering, and computer/information sciences are the most popular fields of study among the cohort. This highly competitive national scholarship will provide Sckaff with up to $40,000 annually for a maximum of three years to complete her bachelor’s degree.
“When I received the news that I was awarded the scholarship, I was overjoyed and excited. It was a very long and intricate process. Receiving my Associate of Science in Biology and Engineering and the scholarship puts me closer to reaching my goal to learn and explore new scientific discoveries in biomedicine to help women like Aesha Mohammadzai,” Sckaff said.
“I am glad that I choose Cochise College. The staff at the college have been extremely supportive, from the writing lab supervisor to the deans who helped me along the way. I would not have received the personal mentoring elsewhere. I grew immensely as a professional, student, and individual. I am applying the knowledge I gained to my research projects at Cochise College,” added Sckaff. “My experience strengthened my resolve to always work hard and never give up. Each obstacle I overcame taught me that I am possible.”
As a leader, Maria Sckaff serves as the president of the Phi Theta Kappa, Alpha Mu Zeta Chapter-Sierra Vista Campus and vice president of Rotaract. In school, she tutors biology calculus, statistics, and physics. She also enjoys volunteering in the community, helping the Academic Decathlon Competitions at Buena High School, Forgach House, Habitat for Humanity, and Project Graduation at Buena High School.
“I work tirelessly to engage myself in research projects and plan to volunteer in programs, such as Rotaplast, that provide free reconstructive surgeries to underserved communities,” continued Sckaff. “This scholarship has afforded me the opportunity to continue my studies. I will become a biomedical engineer, enroll in an MD-PhD program, graduate, and pursue a position through which I can help advance the use of reprogrammed induced pluripotent stem cells in tissue engineering, aiming at developing reconstructive surgeries tailored to each patient’s tissue deformity. I am very thankful to be selected to receive this scholarship.”
“Cochise College is proud to congratulate Ms. Sckaff for this honor,” said Dr. J.D. Rottweiler, college president. “Her hard work, determination, leadership and service to others are evident in what she has accomplished at Cochise College. We wish her the best in her bright future.”