Articles by Matt Ellsworth

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Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Aug 25, 2014

The best teachers you’ll have in college

As my Flinn Scholars Program colleague Ruben Aguirre wrote last month, a primary component of the Flinn Scholar experience is being matched with a faculty mentor who helps the Scholar navigate the university, develop a personal path, and seize important opportunities to make a positive impact on the university community and beyond. The faculty who become mentors to Flinn Scholars are the master teachers of Arizona’s universities.

William Deresiewicz, one of the more provocative contemporary thinkers about education (see his impassioned argument for not going to an Ivy League university), focuses on such master teachers in his latest essay in Slate, “Spirit Guides.” 

Recognizing the trend in higher education toward greater reliance on part-time faculty and online coursework, Deresiewicz sees a general devaluation of teachers. “But,” he writes, “the kind of learning that college is for is simply not possible without them.” The kind of learning that college is for, he argues, is learning critical-thinking skills:

You learn them directly from another person. You learn them through incessant repetition and incremental variation and extension under the close supervision of an experienced practitioner. You learn them in classes that are small enough to allow for individual attention, supplemented by one-on­one instruction tailored to your own specific aptitudes and needs.

But is such an experience possible at Arizona’s universities? After all, they’re enormous. Northern Arizona University, the smallest of our three universities, has 20,000 students, more than Duke or Notre Dame. Arizona State University has topped 80,000. Really? Discussion-based seminars and one-on-one instruction? 


That’s where the undergraduate Honors experience comes in to play. I haven’t seen a better description of the courses at the heart of Honors education at Arizona’s three universities than this description that Deresiewicz provides:

The purpose of a seminar is to enable your professor to model and shape the mental skills she’s trying to instill. She conducts a discussion about the material, but she doesn’t simply let you talk. She keeps the conversation focused. She challenges assertions, poses follow-up questions, forces students to elaborate their one-word answers or clarify their vague ones. She draws out the timid and humbles (gently) the self-assured. She welcomes and encourages, but she also guides and pushes. She isn’t there to “answer questions,” at least not for the most part; she’s there to ask them.

And the Flinn Scholar’s mentor goes the next step, guiding the same kind of intellectual exchange at an individualized level, and often not just for a semester but for three or four years. It can be a life-changing experience.

Tags: honors education, mentoring, william deresiewicz
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Mar 10, 2014

A new SAT is on its way

Big changes are coming to the SAT in spring 2016.

The longstanding penalty for guessing wrong will disappear, just like obscure vocabulary words. The essay will be optional. And the scoring will return to a 1,600-point scale. In addition to the test changes, a new program will give low-income students fee waivers to allow them to apply to four colleges at no charge.

The new exam will be introduced in spring 2016.

Here are the changes, as presented by the New York Times:


  • Instead of arcane “SAT words” (“depreciatory,” “membranous”), the vocabulary definitions on the new exam will be those of words commonly used in college courses, such as “synthesis” and “empirical.”
  • The essay, required since 2005, will become optional. Those who choose to write an essay will be asked to read a passage and analyze the ways its author used evidence, reasoning and stylistic elements to build an argument.
  • The guessing penalty, in which points are deducted for incorrect answers, will be eliminated.
  • The overall scoring will return to the old 1,600-point scale, based on a top score of 800 in reading and math. The essay will have a separate score.
  • Math questions will focus on three areas: linear equations; complex equations or functions; and ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. Calculators will be permitted on only part of the math section.
  • Every exam will include, in the reading and writing section, source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions, students will be asked to select the quotation from the text that supports the answer they have chosen.
  • Every exam will include a reading passage either from one of the nation’s “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”


Read More: A new SAT aims to realign with schoolwork

Tags: act, college board, sat
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Feb 25, 2014

Three Flinn Scholars named UA Pillars of Excellence

Three Flinn Scholars have been named University of Arizona Pillars of Excellence, the highest honor for a student bestowed upon by the university.

Congratulations to Scholars Leah Edwards (’10), Daniel Fried (’10), and Paul Thomson (’11), three of the 12 students and alumni honored for their academic achievements during a ceremony on February 13. Eight faculty members were also honored.

Edwards is a Flinn and Udall Scholar who will be graduating with a double major in political science and environmental and water resources.

Fried is a Flinn, Goldwater and Churchill Scholar majoring in computer science, mathematics and information science.

Thomson is a Flinn Scholar studying acting and Africana studies.

Read More: UA Honors 'Pillars' of Research, Teaching, Engagement

Tags: daniel fried, leah edwards, paul thomson, pillars of excellence, ua
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Oct 03, 2013

How to ace the Flinn Scholarship essays

A few weeks ago, one of the applicants for the 2014 Flinn Scholarship wrote me and asked a simple question: "Is it okay to be creative when I answer the essay prompts?"

Below is my response. There's no reason it shouldn't be available to anyone who's working on the Flinn Scholarship application:

You're absolutely on the right track with the essays, in this sense: There are straightforward, fairly easy ways to answer any of the three questions, and sometimes we've been rather prescriptive in terms of what we're expecting an essay to address.

We will probably receive 400 sets of essays that take those straightforward approaches, even with the "commencement address" prompt. The better among these essays will demonstrate that the writer has thought about the prompts and answered the questions they explicitly contain; these will be unremarkable essays that don't hurt the rest of the writer's application. The less-distinguished among these essays will be confusing, rushed, ungrammatical, and/or inauthentic. These essays will make it almost impossible to advance the writer's application into the second round of our review process.

So, you should most definitely find *some* way to make your essays creatively distinctive. Certainly, there is opportunity to do that with the "commencement address" prompt; much will change in the world in 40 years; you will change, too. We will get *lots* of essays written from the perspectives of politicians and doctors and entrepreneurs. Probably quite a bit fewer written from the perspectives of parents, community activists, classroom teachers, artists, ex-cons, professional magicians, or victims of terrorism, shark attacks, or Martian abductions. There's so much you can do.

There is room for the other two prompts to yield creative responses as well. For the "compromise" prompt, I hope that we'll receive essays that talk about group dynamics in school settings, in extracurricular activities like marching band and athletics, in religious organizations, in local politics, in junior-high student council, and on and on. I hope that some of the essays will reveal the writers' senses of humor, or emotional depth, or courage, or sense of personal moral strength. I hope some will be written in the third person. I hope they'll all take the question seriously.

For the challenge question, I know we'll get lots of responses about education, immigration, divisiveness in politics, health care, and economic development--as we should. Those are essential issues confronting our state. I really hope we'll also get responses about less well-known issues about which the writer really knows something important, issues in which the writer has a meaningful stake but about which the writer can still think and argue dispassionately. 

Hope that helps.

Tags: application season, essays
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Sep 17, 2013

Haven't yet taken the ACT or SAT?

Applicants for the Flinn Scholarship must submit scores from either the ACT or the SAT (or both). Our target minimum scores are 29 on the ACT or 1300 on the SAT (reading and math sections only, not writing).

Can you submit an application if your scores don't quite meet these minimums, but the rest of your application is exceptionally strong? Yes.

We review every application we receive, and occasionally an applicant becomes a Flinn Scholar with a score below our threshold. But this is rare; each year hundreds of applicants have scores well above our minimums.

What if you haven't yet taken the ACT or SAT, or have taken one of these exams but feel like you could do better? There is still time!

The final ACT that counts for our process will be administered on September 21. Students who take this exam can use Code 2175 to send their scores directly to the Flinn Scholars Program.

The final SAT that counts for our process will be administered on October 5. The deadline to register for this exam is right around the corner: Monday, September 23.

Students who take the October 5 SAT can use Code 2175 to send their scores directly to the Flinn Scholars Program. Although scores from this exam will be posted after our application deadline, we can add these scores to an applicant's file.

Tags: admission tests, application season
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Aug 01, 2013

What's the typical path for a Flinn Scholar?

Trick question.

Sure, there are far more Flinn Scholar alums with PhDs, MDs, JDs, and MBAs than in the general population. But how they get there, or to whatever other destination, is a unique story, every time.

Late last night, I heard from alum Ke Wu ('06), one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, and big-hearted people you'll ever meet. She let me know the next step in her "typical path." I'll let the post from the Public Interest Law Center at NYU speak for itself:

Ke Wu
Filomen M. D’Agostino Scholar for Women or Children

Ke was born in Wuhan, China and raised in Tucson, Arizona. A graduate of University High School, she has been deeply influenced by the liberating potential of a progressive public education. While studying biochemistry as a Flinn Scholar at Arizona State University, Ke travelled around the world investigating education initiatives on a Circumnavigators Club Foundation Grant. This research inspired her to deepen her understanding of issues in domestic education, leading her to join Teach For America after graduating in 2010.

As a chemistry teacher at John C. Fremont High School in South Los Angeles, she witnessed how school reconstitution, followed by large budget cuts, left students disillusioned with schooling. In response, she engaged students in discussions about the role of social inequity in education. These discussions shaped her role as the Academic Decathlon coach, through which she witnessed the transformation of her decathletes into social justice advocates. These experiences, along with the prolific encouragement of her students, led her to pursue an MPhil in Education on a Gates Cambridge Scholarship and now, a law degree. With a legal background, she hopes to improve the capabilities of all children, starting with the right to equal access to education opportunities.

Tags: 06, education, gates cambridge, ke wu, teach for america
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Aug 28, 2012

Free advice! Writing application essays

We say this over and over again for a reason: The essays on the Flinn Scholarship application are well worth every second you spend on them.

There's nowhere else in the application that you can do more to show reviewers who you really are. And believe me--the selection committee is not going to choose a Flinn Scholar designate whose personality and intellect remain opaque to them.

What's the formula for writing a perfect essay? I can't tell you, because there's no such formula. There's no most appropriate structure, no ideal tone, no preferred focus. Unlike some of your assignments at school, you won't be able to earn a top score if you cover all the points I'm expecting you to cover with minimal spelling errors. We like accurate spelling, but we're not expecting that you cover any particular points.

What are we looking for, then?



A unique perspective.

A memorable voice.

A story so compelling that reviewers will say, "We have to meet this student."

All in 200 words? Sure. You can do it. Write a couple of drafts of each of your essays, without worrying about the length. If you have 400 or 500 words, you're in a wonderful position--you get to trim out the throat-clearing introduction, the irrelevant vignettes, the least-resonant lines. What will be left, I hope, is a great story. Depending on the essay prompt, it may be a story about you, or a story about something in the world that matters to you.

Want more help?

There was a great blog post in the Times this morning that you should read. It's "The Yellow Test," by Lee Gutkind, who lovers of good writing know as one of our foremost practitioners of narrative nonfiction. His post offers excellent advice about scenemaking in nonfiction writing. This is just what you want to be doing in your application essays.

From Gutkind's post:

Notice — and this is critical — that something happens, no matter how trivial, in each scene excerpted here. The beginning engages a reader, makes a promise. The end of the scene fulfills the promise and makes the audience want to know what will happen next, moving the action forward, ideally to another scene, another block of yellow, until the whole story is told and your point is established.

Do you know how much I'm looking forward to reading your essays? I'm really, really looking forward to it.

(On a side note: You'll notice that Gutkind is right under your nose--teaching at Arizona State University. And one of the stories he excerpts is about the extraordinary clinical oncologist Daniel Von Hoff, previously director of the University of Arizona Cancer Center and now physician-in-chief at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix. Like we always say, Arizona's universities possess some of the most amazing faculty talent in the world.)

Tags: application season, essays
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Feb 08, 2012

Alum adds another major poetry award

Flinn Scholar alumna Katherine Larson ('96) has had a big year.

Last March, Yale University Press published Katherine's first volume of poetry, Radial Symmetry, her reward for winning the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, the oldest annual literary award in the United States and a distinction not far short of winning the Pulitizer Prize.

Writing on the Paris Review Daily in May, Nicole Rudick summed up the collection well: "The natural world has never felt more physical, more alive with tiny movements and infinite textures." In a review for The Independent, Carrie Etter wrote, "Poem by poem, Radial Symmetry exhibits an extraordinary wakefulness, an immersion in nuance that enriches experience."

Now Katherine has been named winner of the $10,000 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, given each year by the Claremont Graduate University "for a first book by a poet of genuine promise." A CGU news release continues:

"The Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Awards are among the most important prizes in all of the arts, and they lift our spirits year after year," Claremont Graduate University President Deborah Freund said. “My most heartfelt congratulations go out to Timothy and Katherine for their extraordinary books. It will be an honor to host these wonderful and creative talents when they visit our campus this spring."

A ceremony for this year's winners will be held on the campus of Claremont Graduate University at 5 p.m. on April 19. Author Maxine Hong Kingston will give special remarks.

As a Flinn Scholar, Katherine earned bachelor's degrees in creative writing and ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, then earned a master of fine arts degree in creative writing at the University of Virginia.

Tags: kate tufts discovery award, katherine larson, poetry
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Sep 01, 2011

Scholar alum launching statewide science festival

Arizona Science and Technology Festival

After Scholar alumnus Jeremy Babendure ('97) graduated from ASU, he headed to the University of California at San Diego to work with recent Nobel laureate Roger Tsien and earn a doctorate in biomedical sciences. Upon finishing his Ph.D., Jeremy dedicated his professional energies to science education, establishing with Dr. Tsien an educational outreach program called ScienceBridge.

Now Jeremy has returned home to Arizona, as director of the Arizona Science and Technology Festival, a new initiative spearheaded by the Arizona Technology Council Foundation, ASU, and the Arizona Science Center. The inaugural Festival will occur during February 2012 with events at sites across the state.

What are the aims of the Festival, and how big an undertaking will it be? Here's what Jeremy has to say:

The Arizona Science and Technology will be 6-week statewide celebration involving 200+ orgs in industry, education and community to inspire Arizonans about how STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) will drive the future of Arizona.

Through a series of hands-on activities and workshops, discussions, exhibitions, concerts, and tours centered during the month of February 2012, the First Annual Arizona SciTech Festival’s goals are to (1) brand Arizona as a leader in science and technology; (2) inform/inspire our future workforce about opportunities in AZ; and (3) serve as a focal point to bring diverse stakeholders in workforce, education and community together.

We anticipate the festival will reach 100,000+ Arizonans through 300+ activities that take place in diverse neighborhoods throughout the state with: signature events highlighting the innovative character of each region (aerospace, technology, bioscience) with high energy exhibitions and shows; 20+ neighborhood hubs providing workshop and discussion opportunities at accessible locations such as libraries and community centers; tours of science/technology facilities statewide; and activities, talks and challenges in-schools to get kids engaged before, during and post festival.

Something this big doesn't happen without energetic support from a lot of people. Individuals and organizations wishing to participate in and support this unique opportunity to showcase Arizona's scientific strength and potential should contact Jeremy--today.

Tags: arizona science and technology festival, arizona technology council, asu, jeremy babendure
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Jul 22, 2011

Innovation in education, Scholar style

1995 Flinn Scholar Becki NorrisIn Sunday's print edition, the New York Times will examine an audacious experiment in training teachers, the Relay Graduate School of Education, which opens this summer in New York City.

One of the primary leaders of Relay is our own Brent Maddin ('94), who was snatched from the Harvard Graduate School of Education even before he could finish his dissertation. Good thing he wrapped up that Ph.D. this spring--the Times piece notes that he will soon become Relay's provost.

What kind of teacher is Relay trying to produce? I'd be willing to bet they'd be thrilled to have their graduates lead careers something like that of Becki Norris ('95). After several years of teaching junior-high science and math as a founding faculty member at the Community Charter School of Cambridge, this month the Harvard and MIT grad began a new post: principal of CCSC's lower school.

Congratulations, Brent, and congratulations, Becki.

Talk about a bunch of lucky kids.

Tags: 94, 95, becki norris, brent maddin, community charter school of cambridge, education, relay graduate school of education
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Mar 04, 2011

New (Scholar) architecture on campus

UA Pillars of Excellence

On March 2, Beryl Jones, Connor Mendenhall, and Mitch Turbenson were honored as the University of Arizona’s “Pillars of Excellence,” recognizing exceptional contributions to the campus and community.

Congratulations to all three, with thanks for your scholarship, your civic engagement and editorial acumen, and your tireless service to and through the arts. “Pillars” are structural, load-bearing features of a structure, and you each have carries significant weight. UA’s rightly proud of you!

Tags: 06, 08, beryl jones, connor mendenhall, mitch turbenson, pillars of excellence, university of arizona
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Feb 07, 2011

All Kellie Mejdrich, all the time


Are you writing an essay about the impact on freelancers of AOL's acquisition of the Huffington Post?

Are you at this very moment discoursing at length about how the New York Times can produce such weak coverage of the Super Bowl, when its coverage of Cairo is so strong?

If so, you might be one of Those Journalism People.

And if you are, you'll be glad to know that the Arizona Daily Star has built a web page just for you: The Collected Works of Kellie Mejdrich ('08).

The University of Arizona junior is interning there this semester, covering the City Hall beat. And so far, she's writing really well. Sort of like she has been for a while at the Daily Wildcat. The Wildcat's Anthology of Kellie Mejdrich Classics is here.

Tags: 08, journalism, kellie mejdrich, university of arizona
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Nov 15, 2010

If an infinite number of Flinn Scholars conduct an infinite number of studies...

A monkey hitting typewriter keys at random for an infinite amount of time will eventually type the complete works of Shakespeare.... eventually, two of them will be cited, in consecutive paragraphs, in the New York Times.

Here's "This is Your Brain on Metaphors," yesterday's column by Robert Sapolsky for the Opinionator blog, in its regular series on philosophy, the Stone. His subject? The "why" behind an incredible mystery:

Symbols, metaphors, analogies, parables, synecdoche, figures of speech: we understand them. We understand that a captain wants more than just hands when he orders all of them on deck. We understand that Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” isn’t really about a cockroach. If we are of a certain theological ilk, we see bread and wine intertwined with body and blood. We grasp that the right piece of cloth can represent a nation and its values, and that setting fire to such a flag is a highly charged act. We can learn that a certain combination of sounds put together by Tchaikovsky represents Napoleon getting his butt kicked just outside Moscow. And that the name “Napoleon,” in this case, represents thousands and thousands of soldiers dying cold and hungry, far from home.

Read down a few paragraphs, and you find Sapolsky citing a 2006 Science article co-authored by Katie (Awerkamp) Liljenquist ('95):

In a remarkable study, Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto and Katie Liljenquist of Northwestern University demonstrated how the brain has trouble distinguishing between being a dirty scoundrel and being in need of a bath. [...]

After that, it's time to hear from Daniel Sullivan ('04):

This potential to manipulate behavior by exploiting the brain’s literal-metaphorical confusions about hygiene and health is also shown in a study by Mark Landau and Daniel Sullivan of the University of Kansas and Jeff Greenberg of the University of Arizona. [...]

No, we haven't sent Sapolsky a list of additional Scholar-experts for his next columm. But we could.

Tags: 04, 95, daniel sullivan, katie (awerkamp) liljenquist, new york times, psychology
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Nov 11, 2010

The Next 100 Years

Flinn Scholars interested in public policy will want to read Arizona Government: The Next 100 YearWe talk a great deal about public policy in the Flinn Scholars Program, but how many of us understand how our state government really operates, and what led to some of its present practices? High-school civics class doesn’t begin to map this complex landscape.

To understand how public policy emerges from idea to practice in Arizona, you might try the briefing book for the 97th Arizona Town Hall, which concluded yesterday at the Grand Canyon. Reading Arizona Government: The Next 100 Years--also the title of the three-day Town Hall--will leave you a better-informed voter and more-fully engaged citizen as we approach our 2012 centennial.

In a chapter that begins on page 77, you’ll also discover some of the work for which alumna Kim Demarchi ('93) is well-known.

Tags: 93, arizona town hall, kim demarchi
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Nov 11, 2010

The Next 100 Years

Flinn Scholars interested in public policy will want to read Arizona Government: The Next 100 YearWe talk a great deal about public policy in the Flinn Scholars Program, but how many of us understand how our state government really operates, and what led to some of its present practices? High-school civics class doesn’t begin to map this complex landscape.

To understand how public policy emerges from idea to practice in Arizona, you might try the briefing book for the 97th Arizona Town Hall, which concluded yesterday at the Grand Canyon. Reading Arizona Government: The Next 100 Years--also the title of the three-day Town Hall--will leave you a better-informed voter and more-fully engaged citizen as we approach our 2012 centennial.

In a chapter that begins on page 77, you’ll also discover some of the work for which alumna Kim Demarchi ('93) is well-known.

Tags: 93, arizona town hall, kim demarchi
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Oct 18, 2010

25th Anniversary reunites past and present Scholars

Here's the verdict, right up front: The Flinn Scholars 25th Anniversary celebration was fantastic.

Just about this time, 25 years ago, the Flinn Foundation's board of directors approved creation of the Flinn Scholarship. John Murphy and Myra Millinger got to work, were soon joined by Barbra Barnes as the Flinn Scholars Program's first director, and about six months later, the inaugural class of Flinn Scholars were being selected.

That class of 1986 was well represented at the 25th Anniversary gathering, which was held Oct. 1-3 at the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale. Eight members of the class were able to attend, and several helped Michael Young and Christa Thompson make the weekend a success:

  • Theresa Levy's bossa nova music was played at the Friday night reception;
  • Nathan Johnson was a presenter on the "How Did I Get Here?" panel, and performed one of his piano compositions with 2010 Scholar Tina Cai at the Musicale;
  • Paul Burkhardt was a presenter on the "Sustainable Communities" panel.

The hotel was great, the food was great, and the rekindled friendships were great. One of the best moments was when a Scholar from one of the first classes struck up a conversation with one of the current Scholars--20 or even 25 years younger. It happened again and again over the course of the weekend.

Altogether, 135 alumni and current Scholars attended, along with many spouses, partners, and children, with every class represented by at least one Scholar. It was a good start. How about we aim for 225 at the 30th Anniversary weekend in 2015?

[About 700 more photos are posted at]

Tags: 25th anniversary, alumni, flinn scholars
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Oct 14, 2010

Setting the summer to music

Matt Rolland ('05), one of the chaperones on the Flinn Scholars' 2010 Central European seminar, has provided an invaluable gift to the Scholars Program.

After I-can't-guess-how-many hours of careful selection, arrangement, and editing, Matt has released a photo-and-video slideshow that truly captures the wonder and wonderfulness of our annual pilgrimage to Hungary and Romania. As you would expect from Matt, who is quite the musician himself, the slideshow is accompanied by the perfect soundtrack of folk music from the regions we visited.

For Flinn Scholarship applicants whose interest was piqued by our travelogue, and for Scholar alumni whose tenure preceded the addition of this aspect of the Flinn Scholars program, here's what all the fuss is about:

Tags: 05, 09, hungaromania, matt rolland
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Sep 01, 2010

Film icon Edward James Olmos to meet with Scholars

Centennial Lecturer Edward James OlmosIn 1985, the Flinn Foundation made a grant to Arizona State University establishing an endowment in honor of the the university's 100th anniversary. The endowment gave birth to the Centennial Lecture, one of the premier annual cultural events at ASU.

A great perk for Flinn Scholars: because of the lecture's tie to the Foundation, each Centennial Lecturer's weeklong stay at ASU includes a session with current Flinn Scholars (from any of Arizona's universities).

During my own undergraduate experience as a Scholar, there were few experiences more invigorating than those sessions with the Centennial Lecturer--luminaries like naturalist Stephen Jay Gould, journalist James Fallows, and writer Annie Dillard.

So a word of advice to current Scholars: Get your organic-chemistry homework done early and don't miss the chance to meet Edward James Olmos, one of the premier actors working today, who will be meeting with Scholars on October 10.

Those of you in the broader community: Olmos will present his public lecture, entitled "We're All in the Same Gang," on October 12. It's free. It's timely. You can read more about it on the Barrett Honors College website.

Tags: asu, centennial lecture, flinn scholars
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Jul 30, 2010

What is the Flinn Scholarship worth?

The value of the Flinn Scholarship

Between late next month, when Flinn Scholarship applications go live, and the middle of next May, when we announce the Class of 2011, one of the most frequently asked questions that Foundation staff will receive is:

"So, what is the Flinn Scholarship worth?"

Sometimes, I can just about see the wheels turning in an applicant or parent's mind as I rattle off what the award provides--an allotment for study and travel abroad, funding for room and board, the value of eight semesters of tuition provided by the university. Add it up, and you have a sum near $90,000.

People tend to hear that number in a couple of different ways.

For some people (this was me in the fall of 1993), it sounds almost like the Powerball jackpot, the kind of largess that would change one's life. I was one of those applicants for whom it was either win the Flinn Scholarship or scrape together work-study, a partial scholarship, tons of loans, and still be living pretty frugally--definitely lacking the resources for study abroad, for example.

For other people, the monetary benefit of the scholarship sounds, well, small. I've quoted a figure that's almost insignificant. Over the course of a year or two of researching universities, they've gotten used to the idea of Ivy League sticker prices, to the extent that $200,000 for tuition alone has started to sound normal.

In either case, though, if I answer that question--"What is the Flinn Scholarship worth?"--by talking about money, I've given an answer that isn't really accurate. The Flinn Scholarship doesn't have that much to do with money.

I say that while fully aware of how beneficial it was to not have money worries as an undergraduate. My options expanded dramatically. My capacity to concentrate my energy on my studies, on creative pursuits, on campus activities, on travel--all of that was magnified tenfold by the modest financial freedom that the scholarship permitted me.

But still, the Flinn Scholarship doesn't have that much to do with money. I think this is closer to what it means:

A few weeks ago, I was emailing back and forth with a Scholar alum who was in town to visit family for the weekend. The alum told me that something wasn't right at home; the alum's father was showing indications of some kind of neurological problem. It wasn't an acute event like a stroke, but it had apparently been worsening rapidly over the course of several weeks. The alum, a young doctor, was growing worried.

Because I was about to leave on vacation, I didn't learn for more than a week what happened. The alum ended up taking the father to the emergency room at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center the next day. Within 48 hours, he was in surgery at Barrow Neurological Institute to have multiple brain tumors removed.

Having recently lost my own father to a long struggle with cancer, I understood some of what the alum was experiencing. Still, there was really very little I could do to help. But I knew who could. I wrote the alum another email:

We have a Scholar alum who's the medical director of neurorehabilitation at Barrow. Christina Kwasnica has stayed in close contact with the Foundation, and I'm sure she would be receptive if you run in to any obstacles in the next little while. I'd be happy to put you in touch with her.

Christina Kwasnica, M.D. (Phoenix Magazine)Tina Kwasnica ('87), a graduate of Mesa Dobson High School, had returned to Arizona after med school at Northwestern University, and had soon enough assumed important clinical leadership roles at Barrow. Earlier this year, Phoenix Magazine called Tina (pictured on the right) one of metro Phoenix's five "most innovative physicians who are taking patient care into the next frontier."

The alum wrote me back late that night:

Ironically, Dr. Kwasnica is my dad's neurorehab doc and I just got off of the phone with her. I love the Flinn family. Now I am much more reassured, even though I haven't even met her in person, that my dad is getting terrific care. Isn't that funny?

How do you quantify the value of gaining a second family?  I can't. And that's why, when I meet an applicant or a parent, it can be so hard to answer their questions satisfactorily.

If I have enough time, I end up resorting to stories like this one. There are more of them, many more, stories that just about any current or alumni Flinn Scholar could tell of what the Flinn scholarship is really worth.


Photo by flickr user nathangibbs

Tags: 87, application season, christina kwasnica, medicine
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Jul 23, 2010

Celebrating the first 25 years of Flinn Scholars

Flinn Scholarship 25th Anniversary - Premier Arizona merit scholarship

Here at the Foundation, it can make our heads spin: how quickly Flinn Scholars go from being wide-eyed freshmen living in residence halls for the first time, to being attorneys, parents, small-business owners, research scientists, professional filmmakers--you name it.

Next month, the 25th class of Flinn Scholars begin their undergraduate adventures. With that milestone imminent, we think it's time to celebrate the growth of the Flinn Scholarship Program, the accomplishments of its participants, and the lifelong friendships to which it has given birth.

Actually, we've already begun our commemoration of the Scholars 25th year; our Recognition Dinner this past May was a wonderful chance to rekindle relationships with a few of our alumni and some of our longtime partners at Arizona's universities and in the community.

To continue the celebration, we're inviting our community of nearly 400 alumni to come home. October 1-3, we'll have a weekend-long reunion--we're imagining it as a grown-up version of the annual retreat we hold each August for current Scholars. The weekend will even include a "musicale" reminiscent of the talent show held at the retreat. And we are hoping to invite some of our current Scholars to join in with alumni for that particular activity.

(Alumni, you should already have a save-the-date card on your refrigerator, and you'll shortly receive a formal invitation to the reunion weekend.)

Next spring, we'll follow up with a series of one-day seminars addressing some of Arizona's most important contemporary concerns. Panelists at these seminars will include representatives from the Flinn Scholar alumni community in Arizona--now more than 120 strong. These are individuals making important contributions in a variety of fields, to make Arizona a better place for the next 25 years.

Tags: alumni reunion, flinn scholars
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Aug 07, 2009

On the wedding beat

Danielle Jackson and Flinn Scholar alum Parmi Suchdev ('94), both of whom work at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta

The New York Times fixation on Flinn Scholar weddings continues. This time, it's Parmi Suchdev ('94) getting hitched.

Tags: '94, parmi suchdev
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Jul 20, 2009

Remembering an afternoon with Walter Cronkite

Not many Flinn Scholars are old enough to have watched the late Walter Cronkite's broadcasts as anchor of the CBS Evening News. But undoubtedly, all of the Scholars who attended an exclusive lecture and conversation with him in 1995 remember that afternoon vividly.

Tags: flinn scholars, walter cronkite
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
May 12, 2009

Happy trails...

In a few days, Eric Jackson ('93) and his family will be returning to southeast China, where Eric and his wife Emily will be investigating some of the endangered dialects spoken by minority communities in the regions of China near the Vietnamese border.

Tags: 93, china, eric jackson, linguistics
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
May 01, 2009

Yale? Who Needs Yale?

Shelly Lowe, new executive director of the Harvard University Native American Program

Shelly Lowe ('92) is trading in her responsibilities as dean of Yale's Native American Cultural Center for a new role: executive director of the Harvard University Native American Program.

Tags: 92, education, harvard, shelly lowe, yale
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Apr 30, 2009

Among Joe Fu's other achievements...

Joe Fu has earned a Truman Scholarship, and a fellowship from the National Science Foundation. And he has traveled to do health-care outreach in India, Thailand, and Burma.We've reached the time of year when Arizona's universities begin naming some of their most outstanding graduates. And no surprise: Our own Joe Fu ('03) is among the award winners.

Joe is the recipient of the Robie Gold Medal. According to this news item from UA, the Robie is awarded to one male and one female student who "show personal integrity, initiative, cooperativeness, enthusiasm, humility, well-rounded interests, active participation in student affairs, service to the University and willingness to give more than required and show a love of God and country."

That sounds like more than any one person could achieve, but that's Joe, all right:

At various times, he's worked with the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Arizona Cancer Center, and the Arizona House of Representatives. He's won the Truman Scholarship and a fellowship from the National Science Foundation. And he has conducted health-care outreach in India, Thailand, and Burma.

Has he slept during college? About that, I'm not sure...

Tags: '03, joe fu
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Apr 08, 2009

Our resident conservationist

When Wayne Shen ('04) completed his undergraduate studies at UA last spring, he wasn't completely sure what was next--he knew that he would apply to graduate school, but anticipated a Fall, 2009 start.

But remember, this is the Wayne we're talking about:

No real surprise, then, to get a note from Wayne today with the news that he moved up that timeline, applied early, and is now most of the way through his first semester at the great New England Conservatory. Here's a little of his note:

"At the moment I'm studying with Nick Kitchen, the 1st violinist of the Borromeo String Quartet.  Lessons are going well, and getting to know lots of very talented people! [...]

I should mention that a few months ago I got to see Stephen Hough play the Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with the Boston Symphony.  That was exciting (my first time to hear Hough live).  I also saw a masterclass he gave some NEC students, and marvelled at how beautiful his tone was. (It was nice to hear him up close!)"

Tags: 04, music, wayne shen
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Mar 15, 2009


Brad Ford ('92) plays all four parts of "Bantu," a guitar quartet by Andrew York.

Tags: 92, brad ford, music
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Feb 18, 2009

Nashville, the center of the universe

Last weekend (February 11-15), Nashville was the center of the universe.  David Hernandez ('04) should know, since he’s already explained to us all how to create a galaxy. This time, however, he explained the more refined techniques of that process to over a thousand assembled physicists at the 2009 Joint NSBP/NSHP Annual Conference.

His audiences were sufficiently impressed to award David the prize for ‘best poster’ at the conference, even though it was, in David’s terms, a ‘last-minute’ submission to the proceedings.  Well done, David! 

Tags: 04, astronomy, david hernandez, physics
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