Zwemer is First UW Student to Win Prestigious Cooke Graduate Scholarship

December 10, 2008
Woman reading
Jolyn Zwemer, a first-year law student from Frannie, was recently selected as the first University of Wyoming recipient of the most generous graduate scholarship in the United States. One of 62 national scholarship winners this year, Zwemer will receive up to $50,000 per year for up to six years to continue her education at UW.

You wouldn't think a tiny town remotely located in the least-populated state in the nation would have much to brag about, would you?

But Frannie, Wyo., does.

Located two miles south of the Montana state line, Frannie has the unique distinction of being the only town in Wyoming to sit in two counties. U.S. Highway 310, the town's main thoroughfare, divides Big Horn and Park counties.

The self-proclaimed "Biggest Little Town in Wyoming" -- the locals jokingly insist that it takes two counties to hold all the people -- is also the only settlement in the vast Big Horn Basin to be named after a woman.

Maybe it's fitting then that a woman has provided this town with yet another distinction.

Jolyn Noel Zwemer, a first-year law student who has aspirations of becoming a juvenile court judge, was recently selected as the first University of Wyoming recipient of the most generous graduate scholarship in the United States. One of 62 winners of the scholarship this year, Zwemer will receive up to $50,000 per year for up to six years to continue her education at UW.

"When I found out about it, I had just dropped off a friend at the Denver airport and I almost missed my exit coming back home," Zwemer recalls with a smile. "I was just like, ‘Oh, my gosh!,' and I was freaking out."

A 2004 graduate of Rocky Mountain High School in Byron, Zwemer is just the second person from the Cowboy State to receive a graduate scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, a private, independent foundation established in 2000 and dedicated to helping young people of exceptional promise reach their full potential through education.

The first Wyoming recipient, Angela Harrison-Urlacher of Powell, won her graduate scholarship in 2004 while attending the University of South Dakota. She continued her education at the University of Michigan.

"Jolyn was selected from a pool of 1,000 pre-screened applicants from around the world for this prestigious scholarship, and I believe that says a lot about the type of person she is," says Duncan Harris, director of the UW Honors Program. "In addition to an outstanding record of academic achievement, the winners needed to demonstrate proven leadership abilities, a strong will to succeed and the ability to create powerful dreams for a better future.

"It's an honor for the university and the state to have such a remarkable woman among us."

Remarkably, Zwemer is no stranger to the Cooke Foundation scholarship program. Before her 2006 graduation from Central Wyoming College (CWC) in Riverton, Zwemer was awarded an undergraduate transfer scholarship from the foundation and chose to attend UW.

Zwemer graduated last spring with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and enrolled in the UW College of Law this fall.

"The Cooke Foundation has made a world of difference in my life," says Zwemer, the daughter of Robert and Sharla Zwemer of Frannie, population 210. "When I applied the first time, I knew I was facing long odds because there were going to be about 700 applicants and only 30 would get a scholarship. But I just put my name in the hat because I thought, ‘How else am I going to go to school without taking out loans?'"

And, she adds, "I've always wanted to go to law school, because I want to help make a difference in the Wyoming court system."

Cheryl Burnett, an associate lecturer in the UW Department of Criminal Justice, isn't at all surprised by Zwemer's success.

Burnett met Zwemer during the fall 2006 semester, the student's first at UW, and quickly became impressed with her work ethic, commitment and attitude. Zwemer immediately joined the Pre-Law Club, which Burnett advises, and within months was elected club secretary.

The following year, Zwemer was elected club president "by a substantial margin" and helped guide the club to new heights, Burnett says.

"I can't tell you how impressed I have been by Jolyn's vision of the her future and her focus on achieving her dream of attending law school so that she can work with juveniles who find themselves embroiled in our legal system," says Burnett, who also served as Zwemer's pre-law adviser. "Having worked in law offices and volunteered with juveniles, she already knows the kinds of challenges, heartache and courage that such a career path will inevitably entail, and yet this has only fueled her passion."

As she works toward her goal of becoming a judge, Zwemer hopes her story will motivate other Wyoming students to pursue Cooke Foundation scholarships.

She'd also like a little company at the foundation's annual pizza party that brings together scholarship winners in each state. Since Zwemer is the only Wyoming student in the program, however, she attends the Colorado state celebration.

"I don't think a lot of people in Wyoming know about this scholarship and everything that it can do for you," says Zwemer, who was recently engaged to William Belk, whom she met while both were schooling at CWC. "Don't let the odds scare you. If you're applying for it, you're worthy of winning it. Take a chance and do it!"

You may win more than scholarship. You could give your hometown something to brag about, too.

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