Businessman agrees to help winners of defunct scholarship program

By Joe Tash

A North County businessman, touched by the plight of five students who won a rigorous scholarship competition in 2013 only to be told the scholarship program was out of money, has agreed to help the students.

Stephen Cohen, founder and CEO of Private Asset Management, Inc., which is based in Mira Mesa, read about the students’ plight in the Feb. 20 edition of the Del Mar Times.

“I read the article, I reached out to see what kind of assistance we could offer,” said Cohen. “My expectation is we’ll be able to help all five (students).”

Cohen’s investment advisory firm has a nonprofit foundation that assists a number of charities in San Diego and Tijuana, and will help the students by paying a portion of their college tuition. All five students graduated from San Diego County high schools last year and are now attending college.

The students competed in a scholarship program called STOP 2011, which was organized in conjunction with the Heartland Coalition, a San Diego-based nonprofit. A total of $48,000 in scholarships was promised to the five students in a series of payments over their four years of college, but they received only one payment before being notified by email in January that no more money was available. Last year was the second — and final — year of the scholarship program.

The students and their families were appreciative and touched by the generosity of Cohen and his foundation.

Laura Ceja, whose daughter, Miranda, was one of the scholarship winners, said she spoke to Cohen on Monday (Feb. 24), and learned via an email Tuesday that her daughter’s spring tuition at Cal State Long Beach had been paid.

“We’re humbled. I don’t know how we could ever thank him. He just stepped up and took it upon himself to help us. We can’t even express how thankful we are,” she said.

Miranda, a graduate of Mission Hills High School in San Marcos, placed second in the scholarship competition, in which some 150 San Diego high school seniors participated. Miranda is majoring in journalism, and Ceja said she and her daughter had discussed the upcoming tuition payment over a weekend campus visit.

When she called to tell her daughter the tuition had been paid, Ceja said, “She was just speechless, that’s kind of rare for Miranda.”

The payment means Miranda will have more time to look for a journalism internship, instead of feeling pressure to find a job, her mother said.

Families of some of the other students have also been in touch with Cohen.

“It was amazing, it made me feel really good about people,” said Kara Jacobson, whose son, Rory, a graduate of La Costa Canyon High School, placed third in the scholarship competition.

Rory attends UC Berkeley. Although his tuition for this year is paid, Cohen said his foundation would help with next fall’s tuition payment, according to Jacobson.

“He is extremely generous to help us at all,” Jacobson said. “It just made me feel good that somebody else was touched by the story and felt it was wrong, what happened.”