Advice from a Flinn Scholar

February 2, 2017

By brianpowell

Jeannie WilkeningDear Flinn Finalist:

First, congrats on being named a Flinn Finalist! While I’m sure this is an exciting time for you, if you are anything like I was when I was in your shoes, you might also be a little bit nervous about some of the decisions you have coming soon.

When I accepted the Flinn Scholarship and decided to attend the University of Arizona, I’ll admit that I was not completely certain in my decision. I still had a lot of questions about whether it was the right choice or if I should have instead gone to my “dream school” out of state. Risking hyperbole, however, I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions I have made. As a Flinn Scholar, I not only got the quality education I was looking for, but also had many enriching experiences that were critical in getting me to where I am now.

And where am I now? After graduating this past spring with a degree in chemical engineering, I moved to the University of Cambridge in England, where I am pursuing a Master’s Degree in earth sciences as a Churchill Scholar. Next fall I will head to UC Berkeley to start a Ph.D. in environmental engineering on a National Science Foundation Fellowship.

As a high-school senior, I was interested in finding an undergraduate education that would have challenging coursework, accessible faculty, and the opportunity to do research. I found all of this at an Arizona university. During my first month on campus, I started working in the lab of a professor whom I had met during my Finalist visit. I continued doing research at UA for the rest of my time there and, as a result, was able to really grow as a researcher and realize that it was what I wanted to devote my career to. Throughout all of this, I had a host of mentors and faculty who supported my development and challenged me in the lab and in the classroom. They were genuinely interested in providing me with the guidance and opportunities to help me become an independent engineer who can think critically and solve problems. All that support paid off when it came time for me to apply for graduate school and I could take my pick from top programs in my field. I know that similar opportunities are available at ASU and NAU.

Other benefits of the Flinn Scholarship were less expected, but just as valuable. I found that I had a much higher degree of freedom in my education at an Arizona university than I would have had otherwise. Because I could apply AP credits from high school, I was able to add a minor in art history and pursue other interests in my coursework, ranging from geochemistry to Pilates.

While the travel opportunities were well-advertised to me during the decision process, I did not truly realize how important they were until after being able to pursue my interest in sustainable development both during the China Seminar and independently during the semester I spent at Uppsala University in Sweden. I personally grew a lot during these travels and learned how valuable it can be to live and work in a foreign country, something that is serving me quite well as I now spend more time abroad in my graduate career.

Perhaps the most important but least tangible aspect of the Flinn Scholarship is the Flinn community that you become a part of as a Scholar. In no other group have I found people who are as hardworking, passionate, intelligent, and adventurous. Whether it was time spent together in chemistry labs, at Scholar retreats, or in the Arctic Circle watching the northern lights, some of my most cherished memories from undergrad were with my fellow Scholars.

As you prepare to make your decision, be sure that you attend the visits—as many as you can—and keep an open mind during them. Ask questions, meet new people, and think about what you really want in your college experience. If you are like me, you may find an Arizona university is the perfect launching pad for your future career.

Jeannie Wilkening
Flinn Class of 2012

Read More: Why you should apply for the Flinn Scholarship