How it changed our lives: Alumni reflect on their Flinn Scholarship experiences

October 14, 2015

By Matt Ellsworth

In celebration of the 30th class of Flinn Scholars, selected earlier this year, several members of the Flinn Scholars Alumni Advisory Council offered reflections on their own undergraduate experiences. Read on to learn about the impact of the Flinn Scholarship on their education and journeys after graduation.


Flinn Scholar Class of 2007
Current Position
Council Aide, City of Tucson

If you had asked me what I was going to study in college when I was awarded the Flinn Scholarship in 2007, my likely response would have been, “Yes!” If pressed, I might have admitted that I felt compelled by many options… but I could at least rule out studying Spanish.

The Flinn Scholarship presented me with many life-shaping opportunities to take myself entirely by surprise, and sure enough, the five months that I spent studying Spanish language and history in Madrid remain one of my most cherished and important life events.

As a freshman, I could have counted the number of times I had set foot outside of the Southwest on one hand. I would not have been prepared to take advantage of the Flinn Scholarship’s generous study-abroad stipend without the three-week summer seminar in which all freshmen Scholars participate. I formed life-long bonds with the other members of my Flinn class as we made our way through the cities, towns, and villages of southwestern Hungary and Transylvania, learning to travel effectively and purposefully along the way.

That experience set me up to thrive during a solo Congressional internship in Washington, D.C., the following year, and I will always treasure the Flinn-supported time I spent in Spain as a junior. It forced me to forget to be shy, taught me to handle uncertainty with grace, and encouraged me to seek adventure in everything.


Flinn Scholar Class of 1992
Current position: Judicial Law Clerk, Judge Thelton E. Henderson, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California

One of the things I often tell people about my experience as an undergraduate is that it was the best of two worlds: the resources of a large, research university combined with the small-college feel of the Honors College. Being a Flinn Scholar added a third dimension to that, by providing another community of support and incredible resources, both on- and off-campus.

As Flinn Scholars, we had access to unique events, such as an all-day sculpting session led by John Waddell at his northern Arizona studio, and we gathered for annual retreats, public-policy seminars, and cultural experiences. We were also assigned faculty mentors, some in our fields of study, but others not. My mentors, for example, had philosophy and English backgrounds, although I majored in industrial engineering and mathematics.

The program facilitates connections for those students who know—or think they know—exactly what they want to do, yet it also nurtures those of us who have less-focused academic interests. Some of us end up exactly where we imagined we might be during our Flinn Scholar interviews, while others have taken more circuitous paths. My own formal education has taken me from industrial engineering to social policy to law, but it has also included significant experiences with Spanish language and literature, education, and Chinese history.

I cannot imagine a richer undergraduate experience than my own, and I will be forever grateful to the Flinn Foundation for helping to make that possible.


Flinn Scholar Class of 2000
Current Position: Assistant Professor, Boston University

I will always be grateful to the Flinn Scholars Program for introducing me to the intellectual potential of international travel. The seminar on post-Cold War democratization in Hungary and Romania after my freshman year was my first experience traveling internationally in any capacity other than as a tourist, and it opened my eyes to the wealth of knowledge that can be gained by encountering and engaging other cultures. My later Flinn-sponsored study in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Chile set me on a path that I am still happily following today as a historian and a professor of Latin American international relations.

The questions I remember discussing with my fellow Flinns that first summer—How does history shape current political choices? How do nations define themselves at moments of transition? What challenges do individuals and countries face as they negotiate their places in the international community, and how do they meet those challenges?—still shape my approach to research and teaching. As I begin to take my own students on their first study-abroad trips, I look back on the Flinn seminar and the Scholars Program in general as models of how to create true global citizens.


Flinn Scholar Class of 1990
Current Position:  Executive Vice President, Conservation & Experiences, The Phoenix Zoo  

Sandra Day O’Connor, Jane Goodall, Itzhak Perlman, William Rehnquist, Cats: The Musical. Sea turtles and sea stars, tapirs and tree frogs, volcanoes covered in mist. The Mona Lisa and the Eiffel Tower, Mayan ruins and Lake Managua. A marionette opera in Prague and beach camping in Portugal. Lifelong friends and trusted mentors, square dancing and tug-of-war. Free dinners, bridesmaid dresses, middle-of-the-night calls to comfort, cry, cheer, and champion.

The Flinn Scholarship has given me all of these experiences and countless others, allowed me the freedom to take chances, to fail and try again, to succeed and to celebrate.

I am forever indebted to the Foundation and its staff and Board for the faith and the investment they’ve made in me, and I continue to work hard to give back and give thanks. Those of you fortunate enough to have the same opportunity to say yes to the Flinn: Go for it. You’ll be amazed, and will amaze yourself. Welcome to the family.


Flinn Scholar Class of 1987
Current Position: Senior Vice President, Business Improvement, Junior Achievement USA

Life-Changing Event: Three simple words that represent the purest moments of life, altering forever the course of one’s future. Those fortunate enough to become Flinn Scholars experience a true life-changing event.

I still remember awaiting the envelope in the mail, eager to learn if I was to be one of the fortunate winners of this scholarship, then selecting its second class of Scholars in 1987. I grabbed the envelope out of the mailbox and snuck into my bedroom so that I could open it privately. I could hardly believe that I had earned the honor, and that was the start of this life-changing event. On the surface, the greatest benefits of the scholarship include financial freedom during one’s college years and access to the best academic mentors. Below the surface, the purest benefits of the Flinn Scholars Program are priceless, creating impact far beyond the short years of college.

A child grows up viewing life and the future through the lens that is presented to him or her. I am a strong believer that children of each economic class have difficulty breaking out beyond their current class because their lens is never widened beyond their immediate life and surroundings. The Flinn Scholars Program widens a young adult’s lens, allowing them to see far beyond their current boundaries, encouraging them to explore the unknown.

I had the pleasure of embarking on that journey of exploration with 19 other Flinn Scholars whom I respected greatly, and in return, they challenged me to excel. Being associated with such a distinguished group of individuals is a blessing. In life’s most grueling hours, you remember that you are a Flinn Scholar, and you have a responsibility to fight through adversity and come out ahead.

The truth is, many institutions “give away money” in support of a college education. The Flinn Foundation does much, much more than that. The Foundation made an investment in my future, challenging me to be more than just another solid performer at a university. They offered me a life-changing event at a time when I was ready to view life through a wider lens. Without this incredible offer in 1987, I would not have had many experiences that I have cherished: my tremendous college experiences, my travels abroad, and my current career working for a nonprofit, impacting the lives of nearly five million youth a year.

I am forever thankful to the Flinn Scholars Program, and look forward to the windows that are yet to open before my eyes.