Oumou ZakariaAn ISA partner school, ELLIS Preparatory Academy, is an international school in the Bronx specifically designed to serve students ages 16-21 who come from countries with insufficient formal education. ELLIS Preparatory Academy predominantly serves students from Spanish-speaking countries – particularly the Dominican Republic – as well as students who have come from schools that only offer part-time or limited instruction, or even schools that only teach religious texts. Because of this, the school serves a diverse spectrum of students.

One of its students is senior Oumou Zakaria. Oumou came to the United States from Togo, a French-speaking country in West Africa, in June 2012. Her tenacity and hard work has positioned Oumou as one of only13 students honored by the New York Times College Scholarship program.

“Oumou’s win is a testament to our teachers’ instruction and our students’ hard work,” said Norma Vega, founding principal of ELLIS Preparatory Academy. “The structures we have built and the outside support we have received from ISA has made our school possible and ultimately a success. It’s a big deal.”

To enter the scholarship program, Oumou wrote an essay enumerating the obstacles she faced in the pursuit of her education. Her essay was chosen as one of 100 semifinalists from a pool of approximately 1,500 student applicants. Oumou then had to write another five essays focusing on topics such as a current event issue and why it was important to her, which historical figure she would want to have lunch with, and more.

Based on her essays, Oumou was interviewed by four New York Times editors and the head of the New York Times Foundation about her writing. A week later, they called her to alert her of her acceptance. Oumou already has a 100 percent scholarship to Union College in Schenectady, NY and the New York Times College Scholarship program will provide additional financial aid for other expenses. As an additional part of the program, Oumou will be interning at the New York Times this summer and the newspaper will help with internship placements for the remainder of her undergraduate career.

“Oumou is very dedicated to pursuing a career as a doctor, but she could easily be a writer,” said Sam Saltz, Oumou’s English teacher and advisor. “What Oumou has accomplished would be difficult for any student, let alone someone who has only been in the U.S. for such a short time. It is an amazing experience for Oumou.”

“The New York Times Scholarship will be a very important thing for me, both in terms of college and my future career,” said Oumou. “It is also a reminder that I am strong; that I can always do better than I might think I can at first. I want to tell other students what I tell myself, ‘you are suffering today for a better and brighter future, so perseverance and courage must be your best friends in order to be successful. Never give up.’ “