Five Mesa students are among the 39 finalists who are in the final round of interviews as they vie for 20 prestigious Flinn Scholarships valued at more than $120,000 each.
Emily Delabarra, Autumn Fairbanks, Natasha Kiriluk, Lydia Pastore and Bradley Reese will interview with the selection committee in March and the Flinn Foundation will announce the 2022 Flinn Scholars in April.
A record-breaking 1,095 applications were submitted this year.
Criteria for selecting Flinn Scholars go beyond grade-point averages and class ranking, though applicants should be in the top 5% of the class. Evaluators look for students who are highly motivated and deeply involved in extracurricular activities and community service, assuming leadership roles at school and beyond.
“All of the 39 Flinn Finalists are very deserving of the Flinn Scholarship. We are impressed with this diverse group of extremely bright and talented students who are working to better their schools, local communities and the state of Arizona,” said Anne Lassen, Flinn Foundation vice president of scholarship and education initiatives. “A difficult choice lies ahead for our selection committee.”
Scholarships include funding for full tuition at one of Arizona’s three public state universities, plus housing, meals and two tours abroad for study.
Four other Mesa students were selected as semi-finalists, but did not move on to the final round of interviews. In this competition, though, even the runners up are recognized for their achievements.
So, Sara Enright, Roosevelt Moore, Elisabeth Pendergrass and Danica Rauch are eligible to receive specially designated scholarships from Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University or the University of Arizona.
Here’s a look at the Mesa residents vying to become a Flinn Scholar and what they told the Tribune about their activities.
The daughter of Elizabeth Arndt, Emily attends Gilbert High School and wants to study biomedical engineering or pediatrics in college.
“In my free time I love to bake. I even run my own small baking business. I also teach kids to play bass guitar. I volunteer with Special Olympics through my church, and I am a part of multiple clubs, but president of two clubs that organize freshman orientation and community service opportunities.”
She recently organized a fundraiser Phoenix Children’s Hospital’s bio-behavioral unit. She’s on the varsity badminton team and placed second in state finals in the doubles category.
“Honestly, my biggest motivation, is the people around me,” she said, crediting her mother as her role model.
“But the people that I find most motivating, are the people that I haven’t met yet. I am able to find peace telling myself, ‘You have to keep going, because there is still someone out there who hasn’t met you, and you will make a positive impact on their life.’”
A senior at Skyline High School and daughter of Kristie and Jeff Fairbanks, Autumn has her sights set on ASU to study special education.
At school she is in honors band, cross country, track, National Honor Society and Film Critique Club and is also part of Skyline’s Coyote Connection Leaders group, which provides freshmen tours, peer mentoring and food drives.
“My most rewarding activity was
being an aid for a special education class at my school,” Autumn said. “This class increased my communication skills and taught me a lot about compassion. Additionally, it opened my eyes to my current career goal: being a special education teacher.”
She credits her math teacher Jesse Ruiz as being the most influential teacher, but added, “My teachers and peers at school help motivate me. I can always find cheerful encouragement from them, along with academic support. Without the amazing friends I have made, I wouldn’t be half as motivated as I am today.”
A Westwood High student and daughter of Radmila Stojanovic and Christopher Kiriluk, Natasha wants to study political science to prepare for a career in public policy or law.
“From some of the local government experience I’ve had, it’s been a lot of fun and I want to keep pursuing that,” she said. “Politics and government are an outlet for me to help my community on issues that affect them, and I find it really satisfying.”
She is involved in the National Honor Society and INTERACT (a Rotary youth organization) and the Governor’s Youth Commission, where she is working in a group to address substance abuse among youth and Academic Decathlon. She is the president of the school’s Model United Nations chapter and organized a conference for Westwood.
Natasha said she also loves playing music. “I’ve been playing piano since I was 4 and violin since I was 9. It’s such a huge part of my life and usually where I go to relax from a hectic schedule.”
Overall, she added, “others motivate me greatly to succeed, mainly because I want to succeed for others and not really myself. Knowing that I can help my community, my family, or friends is more than enough motivation to push me down the path I want to go.”
A senior at Red Mountain High and daughter of Delphine and John Pastore, Lydia is ranked first in her class and plans to major in neuroscience and cognitive science “with an emphasis in philosophy of mind” and a minor in public health with the ultimate goal of becoming a physician.
She is involved in HOSA (Future Health Professionals) and is president of that group's Red Mountain chapter and vice president of the state organization. She recently placed second internationally for the Biomedical Laboratory Science Competition and first in the state.
“To further explore my passion for medicine, I have participated in various shadowing experiences, in addition to completing the Summer and Saturday Scrubs programs twice at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Phoenix,” she said.
For the majority of her junior year, she said, I was afflicted with post-viral syndrome as a result of Long Haul COVID-19. To extend care and compassion to others suffering from the illness. I created the platform Chronic Connections, an international support group that has reached kids in over 12 countries. (chronicconnections.org).
"As the CEO of this organization, I have partnered with various media organizations in England (The Lancet Medical Journal), South Africa, France and Italy to promote the implementation of safer public health measures in middle and high schools.”
As a youth advisor for the AizonaCommunity Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities, she has partnered with the Center for Health Equity research at Northern Arizona University and board members from the Mayo Clinic and NIH “to advocate for the forgotten patient population of chronically ill adolescents.”
“These experiences have strengthened my desire to pursue a career in medicine alongside an education in public policy, as I hope to help continue to dismantle the stigma surrounding chronic illness in teens,” she added.
A senior at Faith Christian High School, Bradley hopes to major in political science and governor.
The president of the school’s National Honor Society chapter, he also is founder and president of Engaged Arizona (engagedaz.org), a voter registration-related nonprofit and has been active in various political campaigns and with the Democratic Party.