Disability advocate first Flinn Scholar since 1998 to receive the award
By Brian Powell
Nathaniel Ross started his advocacy for disability rights when he was only 8 years old.
The Mesa native, who grew up experiencing barriers in areas such as education and health care, spent his early years speaking at conferences, serving on advisory boards, and being involved in chronic health communities.
As a Flinn Scholar, awarded by the Phoenix-based Flinn Foundation, Ross’ advocacy was a major component of his undergraduate experience at Arizona State University, where he was a quadruple major who graduated in less than four years.
And in the coming years, Ross’ dedication to disability law and policy will continue to be the centerpiece of his life—as a Rhodes Scholar.
Ross was announced as a member of the American Rhodes Scholar Class of 2023 last month—the reality of which has not yet fully set in, he said. The 32 students, who were selected from a pool of 840 applicants endorsed by their universities and colleges, will begin their graduate studies at the University of Oxford in October 2023.
While at Oxford, Ross plans to pursue a Master of Philosophy in comparative social policy and participate with the Oxford Disability Law and Policy Project.
Ross said he will always be grateful for the opportunities provided to him by the Flinn Scholarship—a merit-based award valued at more than $130,000 given to 20 Arizona high-school seniors each year to attend ASU, Northern Arizona University, or the University of Arizona.
“My selection as a Flinn Scholar changed the trajectory of my life,” Ross said. “Not only does the scholarship help alleviate many of the burdens associated with pursuing higher education, but the Scholar community was something I relied on extensively during my time at ASU.”
Ross is a Class of 2019 Flinn Scholar from Mesa High School who graduated with honors in December from Barrett, The Honors College at ASU with degrees in biological sciences (biology and society), political science, applied quantitative science and history.
During his time at ASU, Ross ran for Mesa City Council and worked as a fellow with the Human Rights Defender of Armenia. In his council race, Ross was the youngest person ever to qualify for the ballot. He’s also written a policy report on artificial intelligence and disability, assisted in the writing of a book on the history of autism, worked as a policy analyst intern at a lobbying firm, and was an undergraduate researcher at ASU’s Luminosity Lab, where he helped write a grant for an AI system to diagnose neuroblastoma.
One benefit of the Flinn Scholarship, a full ride that includes tuition, housing, meals, and fees, is the ability to explore different areas of study without the worry of debt.
Ross is a perfect example. Ross said when he entered ASU, he expected to be on his way to medical school following graduation. His path has changed.
Instead, he will spend the next two or three years at Oxford, earning a graduate degree and participating in networking events, skills workshops, and leadership retreats funded by the Rhodes Trust.
“My selection as a Flinn Scholar changed the trajectory of my life.”Nathaniel Ross
At the conclusion of the scholarship period, valued at about $75,000 per year, Ross intends to return to the United States and attend law school and eventually specialize in disability law and policy—and possibly one day run for state or federal office.
“The one thing that has not changed is my drive to improve the lives of people with disabilities,” Ross said. “I see myself in a career in law at either the state or federal level with an organization like the Arizona Center for Disability Law or National Council on Disability.”
Ross is the fourth Flinn Scholar to be awarded the Rhodes Scholarship and the first since 1998. The previous Rhodes Scholars from the Flinn Scholars Program are Lisa Peng, Serena Hoy, and Alon Unger. Ross is the first ASU student to be awarded an American Rhodes Scholarship since 2001.
“We are so proud of Nathaniel, all he has already accomplished as a Flinn Scholar, and the opportunities that await him with the Rhodes Scholarship and beyond,” said Anne Lassen, vice president, scholarship and education initiatives at the Flinn Foundation. “One of the many benefits of the Flinn Scholarship is having a remarkable community of current and alumni Scholars who support, encourage, and guide you every step of the way.”
Ross said those he met in the Flinn Scholars Program, both his peers and those who came before him, have played a major role in his life.
“As a Flinn Scholar, I was able to reach out to dozens of current Scholars and alumni to learn more about how to navigate college and professional life,” Ross said. “I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities that being a Flinn allowed me to pursue, and I intend to continue to be an active member of the community as an alum.”