By Brian Powell
Jake Beverage has never had any doubt that accepting the Flinn Scholarship was the right decision, from helping him to discover his ideal area of study to impacting his life ever since.
The Class of 1995 Flinn Scholar from Paradise Valley High School in Phoenix knew he wanted to study engineering and originally selected electrical engineering. His mentor, matched to him through the Flinn Scholars Program, happened to be an optics professor. And Beverage, whose grandfather was a combat photographer during World War II, had always had an interest in photography.
Then, after his freshman year at the University of Arizona, he attended a summer program at the University of Central Florida—where he had connections through both his mentor and uncle—and decided optical engineering was the career path he wanted to pursue.
It was one of the many advantages of the Flinn Scholarship that set Beverage on the path to where he is today.
“The relationships, diversity of experience, money and travel opportunities, connections to faculty, the alumni network, it’s all part of the calculus,” Beverage says.
Beverage has experience conceiving, designing, building, testing, and troubleshooting advanced optical instruments and has worked in all phases of opto-mechanical design and product development.
Since 2015, Beverage has been a principal optical engineer at Arizona Optical Systems in Tucson. He is currently the program manager and technical lead for the final metrology system that will test each of the 574 primary mirror segments for the international Thirty Meter Telescope project bound for Hawaii.
Arizona Optical Systems was co-founded by two UA professors who once taught Beverage.
“They remembered me from when I was a student. They called me the next day (after applying), and a week later I was on a visit, and two weeks after that I had a job,” Beverage says. “It was one of those things that fell into place at the right time.”
Beverage graduated from UA in 1999 with a Bachelor of Science in optical engineering. He earned his master’s degree in optical sciences in 2001 and his doctorate in optical sciences in 2003—both from UA.
After earning his doctorate, Beverage left Arizona to become a principal engineer at Zygo Corporation in Middlefield, Conn, a worldwide supplier of optical metrology instruments. He was there for more than a decade, in positions of increasing responsibility at a company that in 2014 merged with an international manufacturer with sales topping $4 billion.
In 2015, he returned to Arizona, settling in Tucson. Professionally, he preferred to work in a smaller team where he could contribute more to the firm’s vision and action. Personally, he wanted to come back to Arizona to a city he and his wife love and not too far from their families in Phoenix.
Choosing the Flinn Scholarship
As a senior in high school, Beverage considered attending Yale University, where he had the option of playing intercollegiate soccer.
When he was offered the Flinn Scholarship, he said it was an easy choice. Beverage knew he wanted to attend graduate school, and the scholarship would allow him to make that choice debt-free, and with an undergraduate experience that would be appealing to top graduate schools.
“If I had gone to Yale, I would have been one of many ambitious students all in the same boat and I would not have had the same opportunities as an undergrad to work outside of the classroom,” Beverage said. “At the time, I thought I’d go on to some ‘fancy’ school for graduate school, but as it turns out UA is one of the best graduate school in the world for optics.”
Beverage may have decided against playing soccer for his university, but he was active in UA intramurals. He was a campus champion in soccer, ultimate frisbee, and spades and counted Flinn Scholars as his teammates.
While Beverage has stayed close friends with a number of Flinn Scholar alumni, living in Connecticut made it difficult to be involved with the greater Scholar community. Once he returned to Arizona, he contacted the Flinn Foundation to let the Phoenix-based organization know he had moved back to the state. In 2017, he was asked to review Flinn Scholarship applications and interview candidates who reached the Semifinalist stage.
“The Flinn community is an absolutely unique thing about the Scholarship. This is a group of people who are all really smart and talented but in such diverse ways,” he said. “You are naturally attracted to people who have that drive and ambition and love of learning, but you are not always exposed to other disciplines. The Flinn community gives you the opportunity to have those deep conversations about everything.”
For instance, Beverage says he still has a pot from a sculpting class he attended with a fellow Scholar.
When Beverage accepted the Scholarship, the program was about a decade old. This year’s Class of 2018, which was selected from a record-high 881 applications, will be the 33rd class of Flinn Scholars.
The names and high schools of the 20 Arizona students will be announced in April.
Beverage plans to stay involved with the Scholars alumni community and hopes to play a role in selecting a future class.
“I have two kids in elementary school and I have a personal interest in Arizona being in a position to succeed going forward,” Beverage says.