Growing up on Tucson's south side, Isabella Espinoza was determined to not stay in town when it came time for college.
But after spending two of her high school summers working alongside top medical researchers at the University of Arizona Summer Institute on Medical Ignorance, Espinoza, an aspiring physician and scientist, decided to pursue her biology degree at UArizona.
Espinoza, who will graduate from Desert View High School next month, is one of a dozen 2020 Flinn Scholars – some of the highest-achieving high school seniors from across the state – who have chosen to attend the University of Arizona in the fall.
The Flinn Foundation announced this year's 19 scholars on Wednesday. The Phoenix-based nonprofit is a grantmaking organization that also supports Arizona's bioscience, arts and culture sectors.
This will be UArizona's largest cohort of Flinn Scholars in about a decade. Six of the 19 Flinn Scholars chose to attend Arizona State University and one chose Northern Arizona University.
The prestigious Flinn Scholarship, given to about 20 students each year since 1986, covers the full cost of tuition, mandatory fees, housing, meals and more – a value of more than $120,000. All UArizona Flinn Scholars will be members of the university's Honors College and will receive mentoring from top faculty. They also will get to participate in a study abroad experience to a country of their choice.
The scholarship is intended to keep Arizona-bred future professionals in the state.
"We know that when top students leave smaller states like Arizona, statistics show they often do not come back," said Terry Hunt, PhD, dean of the Honors College. "This 'brain drain' means that talented and promising leaders in their fields are not here to enrich Arizona and help us better succeed."
Espinoza said her decision to attend UArizona was largely influenced by the summers she spent at the Summer Institute on Medical Ignorance. The institute allows disadvantaged high school students to work in university medical labs alongside top researchers. Espinoza spent her first year working with Mohab Ibrahim, MD, PhD, and Amol Patwardhan, MD, PhD, in the Department of Pharmacology, and her second year with Sydney Rice, MD, MSc, in the Department of Pediatrics.
"With that summer program, I definitely did fall in love with the U of A's dedication to research and the different hands they have into different fields of medicine," Espinoza said.
The experience, she added, helped her realize that the education she wanted was in her hometown, after all.
Her decision to stay in Tucson also means the opportunity to give back to her community. Her career plans as a physician-researcher include helping bridge the gap she sees between the health care field and the Spanish-speaking and low-income communities in Tucson.
"I realized that if I want to be part of my community, the best idea would be to stay in it," she said. "The U of A is that option."
Dermot Louchart, another 2020 Flinn Scholar and a senior at Flagstaff High School, said the University of Arizona's "spectacular programs" for creative writing and musical theater – his areas of study when he begins in the fall – were what drew him.
Louchart met with students, faculty members and alumni of the creative writing program in the Department of English during a campus visit with other Flinn Scholars. He said all were supportive and helpful, and he enjoyed the half hour he spent at the university's nationally renowned Poetry Center.
"The vibe on campus was just so awesome," he said, adding that Tucson in general was also a draw.
Louchart said he especially enjoyed his time with Danny Gurwin, associate professor in the School of Theatre, Film and Television and co-chair of the acting and musical theater division.
"He was just so cool and so nice and so helpful," Louchart said. "Just being able to make that connection was super awesome."
The University of Arizona's 2020 Flinn Scholars are:
- Koda Benavidez, Mohave High School, Fort Mohave
- Catherine Broski, Millennium High School, Litchfield Park
- Anya Chaudhry, Desert Vista High School, Phoenix
- Isabella Espinoza, Desert View High School, Tucson
- Simon Fitch, Tanque Verde High School, Tucson
- Julia Groman, Paradise Valley High School, Scottsdale
- Nikolas Gruber, Catalina Foothills High School, Tucson
- Heather Jensen, Red Mountain High School, Mesa
- Mira Kaibara, Phoenix Country Day School, Phoenix
- Violet King, Mingus Union High School, Cottonwood
- Dermot Louchart, Flagstaff High School, Flagstaff
- Christina Niyigena, Sahuaro High School, Tucson
A version of this story originally appeared on the UANews website.
# # #
NOTE: Photos available upon request
About the University of Arizona Health Sciences
The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. UArizona Health Sciences includes the Colleges of Medicine (Tucson and Phoenix), Nursing, Pharmacy, and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona, the greater Southwest and around the world to provide next-generation education, research and outreach. A major economic engine, Health Sciences employs nearly 5,000 people, has approximately 4,000 students and 900 faculty members, and garners $200 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: uahs.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram).
About the University of Arizona
The University of Arizona, a land-grant university with two independently accredited medical schools, is one of the nation's top public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report. Established in 1885, the university is widely recognized as a student-centric university and has been designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. The university ranked in the top 20 in 2018 in research expenditures among all public universities, according to the National Science Foundation, and is a leading Research 1 institution with $687 million in annual research expenditures. The university advances the frontiers of interdisciplinary scholarship and entrepreneurial partnerships as a member of the Association of American Universities, the 65 leading public and private research universities in the U.S. It benefits the state with an estimated economic impact of $4.1 billion annually.