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Karim Abouelnaga '13

Narrowing the achievement gap in inner-city communities

The JFK Memorial Fellowship award winner for 2013 is Hotel School student Karim Abouelnaga, of Astoria, New York.

April 2019 update:
Karim was featured in a Cornell Research article which described his ongoing effort to help disadvantaged youths in New York City.

January 2014 update:
Karim has been recognized by Forbes magazine in their "30 Under 30" list in the Education category for his founding and leadership of the Practice Makes Perfect program. PMP helps underserved students by reducing summer learning loss. See a video of Karim acknowledging his selection

Karim is an extraordinary Cornellian who grew up juggling the demands of helping in a small family business with his instinctive understanding that education is the way out of poverty. As he wrote in his JFK application, “Like many children from immigrant families, I struggled to succeed in an educational system with which my parents were not familiar. While I could not articulate this problem until college, it is one I know intimately, as it plagued my childhood, hobbled the life prospects of my closest childhood friends, and indelibly impacted my community.”

Karim's response has been to create opportunities for other young people in similar circumstances by mobilizing Cornell friends to found a not for profit organization, Practice Makes Perfect, which brings together students at several educational levels for four years of intensive summer study aimed at narrowing the achievement gap. With help from Cornell, Ernst and Young, the Clinton Global Initiative, the Andrew and Anne Tisch Foundation and numerous private donors. Practice Makes Perfect assists some 250 young people in New York City each year. The JFK award will augment these numbers: “In a PMP Program, $10,000 changes the life prospects for 50 students by employing 15 high-achieving high school students, providing mentorship for 30 academically struggling middle school students, generating hundreds of dollars of positive value for the community through service projects, and creating enriching summer internship opportunities for five aspiring teachers.” PMP was named one of the top sixteen most dynamic projects at the Clinton 2012 Global University Initiative Conference.

Karim Abouelnaga '13

Karim Abouelnaga '13 shakes hands with former President Bill Clinton. With them is Lindsay Brown, another participant at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative University


Besides PMP, Karim has devoted himself to Ithakids, Black Students United and a mentorship program aimed at increasing the graduation rate of Cornell's black male students. He has traveled the country on behalf of the LIFE Foundation, speaking to members of the insurance industry about his life and work. He is a Cornell Presidential Research Scholar. Karim has held internships with BlackRock, Goldman Sachs, and has volunteered on political campaigns. He is a licensed NYS Realtor, a Newman Civic Fellow, a Pearson Prize National Fellow, and Presidential fellow through the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. In his spare time, he enjoys competing in triathlons, where he raises funds for his projects, and volunteering. One of his professors describes an incident in class where a student, trying to improve the work of another, told him to “Try to Karim it up more.”

Karim's aim is to expand PMP's reach to thousands of students nationwide. Working out of space donated by Teach for America, he will devote himself to this project after graduation. One of Karim's referees wrote, “The way Karim commits his efforts to representing those who are historically underserved and underrepresented speaks volumes about him and what he stands for. His efforts on campus earned him Cornell's Distinguished Leadership Award....” Another of his professors “cites him at the top of his list of people who will impact our society and challenge the current way we treat our fellow man.”

Karim thanks the Class of 1964 for believing in him and his work. Once again, Cornell has produced an outstanding public servant and JFK award winner.