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Jessica Hooks ‘03: Why I Give Back

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the Park Scholarships program.”

I’ve heard that statement come out of so many mouths over the past 12 years since I graduated as a proud Park Scholar in the Class of 2003. I, too, have said it, but its meaning has evolved over time.

At first I really just meant, “I’d be seriously broke without the Park Scholarship.”

After getting my master’s degree in genetic counseling I probably meant, “I would have had no idea what I was doing without the Park Scholarship.”

A few years ago I meant, “I wouldn’t have known the meaning of service without the Park Scholarships program.”

And now I mean, “I would be a wholly different person without the Park Scholarships program.”           

Jessica Hooks '03

Jessica Hooks ’03

I believe the Park Scholarships program spoiled me early in life. Surrounded by sixty people whose intelligence was palpable, yet whose demeanors were humble, I matured within the circle of their influence. Sitting down with then-Senator John Edwards for a fireside chat didn’t seem all that unusual. Planning and executing a city-wide day of volunteerism for Service Raleigh – well, I mean, you got a t-shirt and doughnuts, so why not? Engaging in discussions, disagreements, debates with fellow students who have gone on to become physicians, philanthropists, philosophers… yep, pretty normal. Who has that kind of experience on a regular basis? Park Scholars do.

It is one of my greatest honors in life to have been named a Park Scholar. I wear that badge proudly, knowing full well that if I were to apply today, there is no way I would make the cut. As a member of the Regional Selection Committee for the past eight years, I have seen the caliber of students that now apply for the Park. Their accomplishments, poise, passion, and character far exceed those of the girl I remember myself to be at 18. I leave the interviews every year deeply touched by the legacy that the Park Scholarships program is leaving at NC State, and the value that these young people will create for our world using the Park as a springboard.

I cannot afford to fund a full Park Scholarship, not even for a single student. While a four-year degree is almost four-and-a-half times more expensive today than it was 30 years ago, salaries haven’t increased at the same rate. If the Park Scholarship was simply about getting a four-year degree I might say, “Tough cookies” – because we are all feeling the impact of the rising cost of everything. But it’s not. It’s just not.

The Park Scholarships program is about developing a moral code that persists despite the pressures of a highly competitive professional landscape. It is about learning the foundational tools of exceptional leadership and having your know-it-all, 20-year-old self be reminded that you don’t have all the answers yet. It is about cultivating a spirit for service that will haunt you and fill you and transcend you. And finally, it is about being surrounded by the intellectual equivalent of the greatest thinkers, dreamers, and doers of our time – a community that demands the best of you and will hold you accountable and support you when you’re slipping from that standard. This is the Park experience.

It is this experience that I ask you to join me in supporting. It is this experience that we, as alumni and beneficiaries of such an incredible opportunity, have a responsibility to fund. The tenets of scholarship, leadership, service, and character reside permanently within each of us. We are part of the Park Scholarships program’s legacy, and it will not perpetuate itself.

Raleigh native Jessica Hooks ‘03 earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from NC State, and went on to complete a master’s in genetic counseling from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro in 2005. She now serves as a genetics and medical educator in her role as lead medical science liaison with Ariosa Diagnostics in Charlotte, N.C.

posted 2015.12.31