Q & A with Flinn Scholar and UA senior Alexa Nguyen

March 14, 2019

By Matt Ellsworth

Alexa Nguyen is a Class of 2015 Flinn Scholar who graduated from Prescott High School. She is currently a senior at the University of Arizona.

Flinn: What led you to apply for the Flinn Scholarship?

Alexa: I initially heard about the Flinn Scholarship when I was a freshman in high school from a current Flinn Scholar at the time, Nikil Selvam (Class of 2010). He explained to me what the Scholarship was and what it had to offer. I kept it in mind as I progressed through high school, and when the time came to apply, I knew I might as well go for it because it was an unbelievable opportunity. I certainly didn’t think I would get it when I applied, but I recognized how valuable the Scholarship would be, both from a monetary standpoint and the access to a community of Scholars that would support me during my time as an undergrad and beyond.

Flinn: When offered the Flinn Scholarship, did you hesitate to accept it? If so, what considerations were you weighing?

Alexa: I did hesitate to accept the Flinn Scholarship, and I was waiting to see what other schools would offer me in terms of financial aid. Realistically, I knew that most of the schools I applied to would offer me little to no aid, but I still held out. My heart wasn’t set on attending a particular school, but part of me felt that staying in Arizona might limit my future options; I considered how a “brand name” school would look better for name recognition. In hindsight, I realize that your undergraduate experience is defined more by what you choose to get involved with, and that attending a large public institution, like the University of Arizona, actually helped me stand out by providing opportunities, such as research and community involvement.

Flinn: What has surprised you most about your Flinn Scholarship experience?

Alexa: I was surprised by how much I have bonded with and truly love the other Flinn Scholars, especially those in my class. In high school, I wasn’t particularly close to anyone, and living in a small town, I always felt like an outsider as a minority. Going into college, I knew I was entering the community of Flinn Scholars, not to mention a larger, more diverse population at university, but I didn’t quite realize how close I would become to them. I know that I have made lifelong friends and confidants in my “fliblings,” and they continually inspire and push me to be a better person.

Flinn: How did you choose UA for undergraduate studies?

Alexa: From my first visit to UA and Tucson, I felt drawn to the school and city. ASU felt too large for me, and NAU too close to home. UA felt like a true college with a beautiful campus, and Tucson has such a deep and rich history and culture that felt tangible when you go around the city. I wasn’t necessarily weighing the programs of each of the schools because I felt that the education I would receive at each college would be comparable. I chose UA because I felt like the community at and around the school would be one where I could grow and learn.

Flinn: What is your major(s)?

Alexa: Molecular and Cellular Biology; Minors: Economics and Religious Studies

Flinn: Was this your planned field of study upon entering college? If not, what caused you to change?

Alexa: Molecular and cellular biology (MCB) was my planned field of study when I started college, and I have continued with the program throughout my undergraduate career. I have been fortunate that the program was a good fit for me, and I have truly found my passion in cancer research. Additionally, I realized I was drawn to medicine and decided to pursue medical school with the goal of practicing oncology in the future. Along the way, I understood the importance of a well-rounded education, so I added minors in economics and religious studies for diversity.

Flinn: What has been the most important academic/on-campus experience you’ve had while at UA?

Alexa: The most impactful experience of my undergraduate career would be my involvement in a breast cancer research lab at the Arizona Cancer Center. Not only has the experience allowed me to grow as a scientist and researcher, I also found my passion in understanding cancer, and working in the lab helped me realize my desire to pursue medicine in the future.

Flinn: What has been the most important off-campus experience you’ve had while at UA?

Alexa: The most impactful off-campus experience I had while at UA was my involvement in the production of a short documentary film and teaching students in an English Language Learners class at a local middle school. Granted, the opportunity presented itself through a course offered through the Honors College, but the course compelled us to leave campus and go out into the community and make a compelling documentary about a local issue. My partner and I chose to focus on telling the stories of local high school students from refugee communities and their integration into American schools and culture. Aside from improving my videography skills, which I dabbled in while on the class trip to China, I had the privilege of meeting strong young men and women who were adapting and overcoming challenges of resettlement, and I got to tell their stories. Additionally, my own film project paired well with a segment of the course where we taught middle school students, many of whom were immigrants or refugees themselves, the fundamentals of videography and helped them produce a short video of their own. The experience helped me realize how much I enjoyed working with local youths and influenced me to be more involved in community outreach and youth education opportunities.

Flinn: What will be your next step following graduation?

Alexa: Following graduation, I will apply for medical school with the intent to pursue oncology in the future. In the year between, I intend to increase my clinical experience and continue to serve in the community. Over the summer, I will be working as a lab technician in my lab, and after that, I hope either to work in Tucson through a clinical internship or participate in the National Health Corps, a health and service-oriented program through AmeriCorps.

Alexa Nguyen

Flinn: What has been your most memorable travel experience as a Flinn Scholar? Why?

Alexa: On one of our last days in China during our trip after freshman year, my class and I did a sunrise hike up to a high point on the Great Wall of China. We woke up incredibly early  to gather in the cold dark morning, and we began to hike up following a local guide. The hike was incredibly difficult and full of switchbacks; hiking in the dark certainly didn’t help. However, as sunrise approached, we made it to the top of an old lookout post at the top of the wall. Seeing the red morning sun over the hills and seeing the Great Wall stretch beyond view was a surreal moment. To be there with all of my class, after three weeks together in China, and enjoying the silence of the morning was an extremely memorable moment. I stood atop the wall and looked out at the sunrise, reflecting on what I had accomplished and overcome to be there in that moment with my class, and I was overcome with how thankful and lucky I was to be there, physically but also generally in my life.

Flinn: What might candidates for the Flinn Scholarship miss that’s important for them to understand about the Flinn Scholars Program?

Alexa: The Flinn Scholars Program is a life-changing opportunity. I think students applying for the Scholarship can logically appreciate the monetary benefit — having your entire undergraduate experience paid for and coming out of college debt-free is certainly an enormous incentive—not to mention other benefits, like study abroad opportunities and a community of Scholars and alumni to support you. I certainly recognized those perks, but I don’t think I truly came to appreciate them until now as I approach graduation. Your undergraduate experience is what you make of it, and staying in-state and attending a large public institution can put you in better footing for the future than say attending an Ivy League school. Sure, with those schools you get the “brand name” and experiences unique to those universities, but your undergraduate experience would be filled with competition to stand out. Because of the opportunities presented to me by taking the Flinn Scholarship and attending UA, I began working in research early; I attended a conference; I traveled the world; I got involved in the community; I won awards; and I had a fulfilling undergraduate experience. I will graduate with a strong resume, and I am free to pursue whatever I want for the future without the worry of paying back debts from my time as an undergrad. So, consider your goals for the future, and even if those aren’t clear to you now or might change with time, know that the Flinn Scholarship will support you and put you in a great position to do well with whatever you choose to pursue.