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SE Queens students receive scholarships

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Two southeast Queens women from top colleges got a chance to rub elbows with Sean “Diddy” Combs during a gala thrown earlier this month by the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which has awarded them $3,500 a semester scholarships throughout their college careers.

“It was such an honor,” said Queens Village resident Lara Akinleye, 21, a senior at Tufts University. “It was really great to see Sean Combs — someone who’s done amazing things in the music industry.”

Also attending the March 7 gala at the Waldorf Astoria was St. Albans resident Choumika Simonis, a 21-year-old senior at Cornell University.

Simonis said the gala “was a great experience and just a nice cap on the weekend after seeing friends that I haven’t seen in a year. It was pretty memorable.”

The foundation, started in 1973, gives out four-year college scholarships, graduate school grants and extensive mentoring to academically distinguished minority students with financial need and records of leadership capacity.

The gala capped a weekend that included workshops on personal branding and financial development for the scholarship winners.

“The kind of support that you get during that weekend, you’re able to take back to your campus and apply it,” Akinleye said.

Akinleye met Simonis through the foundation and they have been friends ever since.

“That’s one of the many benefits that come out of the scholarship,” Akinleye said.

Simonis, a human biology, health and society major interested in public health and infectious diseases, has applied for jobs abroad, including Malawi.

Simonis, who graduated from Hillcrest High School, said she went to Tanzania in the summer of 2009 and worked with Cornell and Tanzanian students on HIV and infant feeding practices.

After graduation, Simonis said she plans to go to Nicaragua to help build houses.

Akinleye, a child development and community health major at Tufts, works at Boston Children’s Hospital’s obesity prevention program and plans to go to medical school.

“That’s my joy,” she said. “Being able to talk to patients and children, specifical­ly.”

The two seniors also worked with the foundation last summer to bring inner-city children to a game at Citi Field and show the children around the stadium’s Jackie Robinson Rotunda.

“That was another wonderful experience,” Akinleye said, noting she learned about Jackie Robinson as a youngster.

“From a very young age, I was taught about Jackie Robinson,” she said. “I feel a lot of the time he’s not spoken of that much. He was really groundbrea­king.”

Ingrid Saunders Jones, vice president of global community connections for the Coca-Cola Co. and chairwoman of the Coca-Cola Foundation, and Joe Perella, founding partner, chairman and chief executive officer of Perella Weinberg Partners also were honored at the gala.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 10:56 am, October 12, 2011
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