Former Flinn Scholars Program director passes away

December 3, 2015

By Matt Ellsworth

Michael Cochise Young
Michael Cochise Young, former director of the Flinn Scholars Program

Michael Cochise Young, who oversaw for more than a decade the Flinn Scholars Program, the hallmark merit-scholarship initiative of the Flinn Foundation, passed away peacefully on November 30 at her Phoenix home. A memorial service will be held at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in central Phoenix on Saturday, Dec. 12 at 10:00 a.m.

From 2001 to early 2012, Young served as the Flinn Foundation’s Assistant Vice President, Scholarship Programs, introducing the extraordinary opportunities afforded by the Flinn Scholarship and Arizona’s public universities to many thousands of high-achieving Arizona high-school students, teachers, and counselors, and guiding more than 200 Flinn Scholars through their undergraduate educations.

“Personal mentorship from university faculty is an important benefit of the Flinn Scholarship,” said Jack B. Jewett, president and CEO of the Flinn Foundation. “Dr. Young was herself committed to mentoring individual Flinn Scholars throughout their undergraduate experiences and beyond. She had an extraordinary dedication to listening to and advising them as they explored how they could best contribute to their academic and professional disciplines and make a difference in their broader communities.”

Young was known for deep interest in whatever subjects caught the attention of the Flinn Scholars she supported; she was also an expert adviser as Scholars prepared for post-graduate fellowships and study. While Young was at the Foundation, Flinn Scholars won three Marshall Scholarships, four Gates Cambridge Scholarships, six Truman Scholarships, nine Goldwater Scholarships, and many other nationally competitive awards recognizing their academic, service, and leadership accomplishment and promise. Three Flinn Scholar alumni, with Young’s encouragement to apply, were selected for the inaugural cohort of the Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy, a more recent initiative of the Flinn Foundation to train future state-level Arizona leaders to serve in public-policy roles.

During Young’s tenure leading the Scholars Program, a component of the scholarship that had only recently been inaugurated became a centerpiece: a three-week international seminar for the class of Flinn Scholars completing its first year of studies. Scholars routinely describe the seminar as a life-changing experience that helps them build the intense sense of community that is one of the most important features distinguishing the Flinn Scholarship from other awards. Near the end of her career at the Flinn Foundation, Young initiated the research that would ultimately lead to the seminar’s relocation from Hungary to China in 2013.

“I first met Michael years ago at a presentation about the Flinn Scholarship,” said Anne Lassen, the Foundation’s current assistant vice president, Flinn Scholars Program. Lassen formerly oversaw national recruitment for the University of Arizona. “She had a palpable dedication to seeing all students reach their intellectual potential and become of service to their communities. Her enthusiasm gave me the thought then that I would love to work someday with students like the Flinn Scholars.”

Young herself had a noteworthy first encounter with the Flinn Scholars Program. John Murphy, the Flinn Foundation’s first president and CEO, recounted in 2012 that he was accompanying a group of Flinn Scholars on a Grand Canyon adventure when he met Young, then visiting Arizona to consider a job opportunity at Arizona State University. Along the bank of the Colorado River, Murphy recalled, Young asked, “Who are these wonderful people?” Murphy responded, “They’re the Flinn Scholars, of course!”

Previously director of Tulane University’s Honors Program, Young joined the ASU Honors College in 1990 and was named associate dean in 1991. In that role, and in subsequent positions as director of ASU’s Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies Program and director of ASU’s Office of National Scholarship Advisement, she advised dozens of Flinn Scholars among many hundreds of other undergraduate students. From 1989-2001, she served in numerous governing-committee roles for the National Collegiate Honors Council.

Young grew up in Philadelphia and earned a bachelor’s degree at St. Joseph’s University and master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Pennsylvania, all in English literature.

After leaving the Flinn Foundation in 2012, Young worked as an independent educational consultant, with one of her major clients ASU’s Gary K. Herberger Young Scholars Academy, a specialized school for highly gifted students from grades 7-12. In the community, she was an active member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Phoenix and participated in Wisdom’s Way School, an interfaith training program for individuals preparing to work as spiritual directors. Young also continued working on a series of “children’s books for adults” focused on discernment of one’s purpose in life.