When the Flinn Foundation's board of directors authorized creation of the Flinn Scholarship in 1985, time was short. It was already mid-October, the height of universities' recruitment season, and there was no brochure for the award, no application packet, no director of the new program. But six whirlwind months later, chosen from some 800 applicants, the Foundation selected its inaugural class of 20 Flinn Scholars.
The students in the Class of 1986 took a big chance, entrusting their undergraduate experience to an untested partnership between the Foundation and Arizona's public universities, a partnership that made a bold promise: Commit to Arizona's universities for four years and you will receive, for free, a finer education — including mentorship from top faculty, intimate honors courses, and extraordinary enrichment experiences — than the nation's most prestigious universities can offer.
The Foundation's board of directors took a big chance, too. The initial objectives of the Flinn Scholars Program were mightily ambitious. John Murphy and Myra Millinger, the Foundation executives who proposed the Flinn Scholarship, envisioned a program that accomplished much more than giving 20 students per year an excellent education. They believed the program would help Arizona's universities recruit a greater share of the state's highest-achieving students. And they believed the program would be a means to identify and nurture Arizona's future leaders.
The chances taken 25 years ago have paid off.
The Class of 1986 — as is true of each cohort that has followed — has made us tremendously proud. As undergraduates, they were the eclectic, curious, brilliant individuals we expected, majoring in fields like anthropology, physics, education, theater, and microbiology. Today, in their early 40s, they are entering the prime years of their professional lives. Among them are several engineers, as well as physicians, attorneys, a filmmaker, a singer, and a college dean. Some of them are now parents of eclectic, curious, brilliant teenagers.
Meanwhile, the ambitious aims of the Flinn Scholars Program have been realized. In the mid-1980s, the small undergraduate honors programs at Arizona's universities struggled to attract top Arizona students, losing most of them to schools like Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford. Since then, the honors programs have grown into nationally renowned, innovative models for undergraduate education, and more National Merit Scholars now enroll at Arizona's universities than at all but a handful of universities nationwide. Visionary faculty and administrators at the universities, working in concert with profile-raising programs like the Flinn Scholars, have proven a potent combination.
For several years, we wondered how realistic the objective of grooming future leaders for Arizona might be. But now, as the number of Flinn Scholar alumni approaches 400, we do see leaders emerging, with an impressive share of them here in Arizona (where fully one-third of all alumni live). They include rising entrepreneurs and business leaders, public servants, university faculty, and elected officials. And this is just the beginning; most of our alumni are still under the age of 35.
While the Foundation's board is encouraged by the impact of the Scholars Program in Arizona, from nearly the beginning a centerpiece of the program has been exploration far from home. We are pleased by the contributions and achievements Flinn Scholars make across the country and internationally. With extraordinary talents and rich undergraduate experiences, Scholars regularly gain admission to the nation's top graduate and professional schools (where some already hold faculty positions), leading to the formation of substantial clusters of Scholar alumni in most major metropolitan areas, led by the Bay Area, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C.
Flinn Scholars have established important records of service through Teach for America and the Peace Corps, in public institutions as Truman and National Security Education Program Scholars, and by leading nonprofit organizations domestically and abroad. More than a few have built on undergraduate research and travel as Fulbright Scholars, and 15 Flinn Scholars have continued their studies in the United Kingdom after graduation as Rhodes, Marshall, Churchill, and Gates-Cambridge Scholars.
Flinn Scholars have entered almost every field imaginable, which is just as we would want it. Beginning in those first fall days of 1985, and ever since then, under the guidance of the Scholars Program's three outstanding directors, Barbra Barnes, Helen Rosen, and Dr. Michael Cochise Young, we have worked to ensure that there is no Flinn Scholar "type." If there is a single trait common to them all, it is a compelling inclination to contribute to the creation of new knowledge. How they do that is up to them.
We on the Foundation's board are committed to the Flinn Scholars as a pillar in fulfilling the Foundation's mission — to improve the quality of life in Arizona for the benefit of future generations. It has been a wonder to witness the good that the Scholars have already brought to our state and to the world.
David J. Gullen, M.D.
Chair, Board of Directors