Community service and social activism were major components of Brendan Terry’s high school career.

He trawled the ocean for plastic with a nonprofit anti-pollution group, came up with an idea for Starbucks to reduce in-store waste and assisted an organization that supports schools in underprivileged Los Angeles neighborhoods.

As it turns out, his efforts were personally valuable too, helping him earn a college scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation worth up to $40,000 annually.

Terry got the news that he won the scholarship on the day he left for his overnight orientation at Pomona College, where he’ll begin his foray into higher education in the fall.

“I was extremely surprised,” the recent New Roads School alumnus said. “It was overwhelming. I didn’t think I had a chance of getting it.”

Terry was one of 85 high school students in 27 states to receive the foundation’s college scholarship this year, according to a press release. Cooke college scholars have demonstrated high academic achievement as well as community service, perseverance and financial need.

The foundation has awarded about $147 million in scholarships to more than 2,000 students since 2000, according to the release. It has also given $90 million in grants to organizations that serve standout low-income students.

“These scholarships will transform the lives of remarkable young people who excelled in high school and who are capable of excelling at the most challenging colleges and universities,” Cooke Foundation executive director Harold Levy said in the release. “Our nation will benefit by enabling these outstanding students to fully develop their talents and achieve great things in their careers.”

Terry said the scholarship will allow him to focus on his studies, a luxury not afforded to the thousands of students who work during school to supplement their incomes.

A Santa Monica resident who attended Canyon Charter for elementary school, Terry started at New Roads in sixth grade. He got involved with 5 Gyers, the anti-pollution organization, in part because its executive director is the daughter of the private school’s founder, Paul Cummins.

“It was basically through Paul’s vision for New Roads that I came up with my vision of what I wanted to get accomplished in high school,” he said. “He told me to focus on social justice and to serve the community.”

Accepted at nine schools, Terry first narrowed his choices to Pomona as well as Williams College and Amherst College in Massachusetts. The Claremont campus ended up being the best fit for him.

“All of those schools are top liberal arts colleges, so I wasn’t looking at difference in reputation or academic quality,” he said. “Pomona is extremely diverse, and the students are more laid-back. It felt like less of a pressure-cooker to me.”

It’s likely that Terry will major in philosophy, which he hopes will help him develop his critical-thinking abilities. But he’s also been in touch with a faculty advisor a track that would lead him to M.D. and Ph.D degrees, using his analytical skills to conduct medical research.

Terry said he’s particularly excited about the scholarship because it makes him eligible to apply for money for graduate school through the foundation, which offers up to $50,000 a year for up to four years.

“That would have a huge impact,” he said.

Terry, whose high school graduation ceremony was held June 5, will spend the summer volunteering with the Venice Family Clinic and tutoring students for the ACT college readiness exam. He’ll attend a weekend for Cooke scholars in Virginia in late July.

jeff@www.smdp.com