Meet Alana Johnson-Joseph, first recipient of newly created Temple-Tifereth Israel Scholarship for Promising Students at College Now

Thanks to a substantial gift last year from Drs. Ximena Valdes Sessler and Daniel Sessler, The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood has established a scholarship with College Now for under-represented minorities graduating from Northern Ohio high schools who qualify for financial assistance along their path to higher education.

Alana Johnson-Joseph, the first recipient of The Temple-Tifereth Israel Scholarship for Promising Students is completing her first year at The Ohio State University heading toward a career in healthcare. Alana was previously an honor student, as well as a star basketball player from Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s John Hay High School.

A natural born leader and a community volunteer, Alana is the first of ten children in her family to enter college. Her parents are deeply invested in their children’s education. Describing the dynamics of her home life, Alana shared, “I learned a lot about myself just getting through high school during Covid. And now I’m working to be a role model for my younger siblings because I want to make my parents’ investment in me pay off.” 

Beyond her self-reliance, athleticism and team spirit, Alana gives credit to her family as the greatest source of strength and inspiration.  “I had advisors and teachers telling me that I was taking on too much to keep my grades afloat. But my mom and dad – and my grandmother, too – were my greatest coaches. As my dad would always say, ‘Never let anyone dim your light.’ I’ve taken those words to heart in every challenge I have had to face.”

When making the grade is not enough, community counts.

What does it take for a brilliant student like Alana to pay for the cost of college when the Federal Pell grants now only cover 29% of the total in-state student costs at a four-year institution? A resourceful self-starter, Alana applied for as many scholarships as she could to fill the gaps. “I didn’t want my parents to worry about paying for school, and I didn’t want to rely on my athletics,” she said. Pushing through the pressures of her senior year, Alana met challenges, graduated with a 4.3 GPA, and was offered 12 scholarships. She turned down seven schools in favor of OSU, where she is currently thriving in the Young Scholars Program.

Alana’s success is a testament to the strength of the support from her family, teachers, and advisors. She also continues to benefit from community resources and services, including working with a College Now mentor.

Lighting the way

The Temple-Tifereth Israel Scholarship for Promising Students is “something incredibly unique,” said Kittie Warshawsky, chief external affairs officer for College Now and a member of The Temple. “We are not aware of another temple in Ohio doing anything similar in terms of assisting with furthering educational attainment for non-congregants.”

Reflecting on their desire to create a college scholarship open to under-represented college students in Greater Cleveland, Dan shared, “Ximena’s father was a physician. My parents were both physicists and my siblings and I are professors. Education is something that has been meaningful in our family. We know how challenging it can be even for highly qualified students to enter and remain in college. Our goal is to help them graduate.”

Since moving to the Cleveland area 17 years ago, the Sesslers have held many leading roles in the community as physicians, mentors, and volunteers. Dan, (Professor and Chair of the Department of Outcomes Research, Cleveland Clinic) and Ximena (a retired physician in pediatric cardiology and global health) are long-time supporters of The Cleveland Museum of Art, where Ximena also serves as a school docent. Additionally, she serves on The Temple-Tifereth Israel Board of Trustees, chairs The Temple Museum Committee, and is a member of The Temple’s Racial Justice Task Force.

“We considered several options before selecting College Now.” stated Ximena. “We endowed the scholarship to simultaneously support two students in perpetuity, each through four years of college. Our hope is to encourage others to join in our efforts and see the funding grow to enroll more students. The Temple-Tifereth Israel Scholarship for Promising Students is named intentionally to reflect our Jewish values and to involve members of the Temple’s Racial Justice Task Force who will help select students.”    

“One of the strengths of College Now is its Mentoring Program,” Ximena stated, “Alana has her own mentor, but Dan and I have many contacts who might help her on the path to a medical career. We will remain in touch to help to the extent we can.”

Ximena Valdes Sessler with scholarship recipient Alana Johnson-Joseph

To learn more about The Temple-Tifereth Israel College Scholarship for Promising Students or the College Now Mentoring Program, call Kittie Warshawsky at 216.635.0155.