Andrea Ramirez Flinn Joe Thomas

Andrea Ramirez (left) plans to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in biological sciences with a concentration in genetics, cell and developmental biology at ASU; Joe Thomas (right) plans to pursue a double major in economics and history at ASU.

Andrea Ramirez and Joe Thomas sparked a sense of pride at their schools when they were recognized as some of Arizona’s highest-achieving high-school seniors.

Out of nearly 900 applicants, Ramirez, who attends Glendale High School, and Thomas, who attends Ironwood High School, were selected to receive the Flinn Scholarship — a highly-competitive, merit-based award offered by the Flinn Foundation — in late April.

The Flinn Scholarship, awarded to 20 recipients in Arizona this year, is a four-year scholarship that exceeds $120,000 and covers the full cost of tuition, housing and meal plans at any of the three in-state universities: Arizona State University (ASU), Northern Arizona University and The University of Arizona.

Because all of their expenses will be waived, Anne Lassen, scholarship and education initiatives vice president at the Flinn Foundation, said the scholars don’t have to work during their college years in order to make ends meet.

“They can focus their time on their studies; getting involved in research; signing up to take on leadership roles throughout college,” Lassen said. “It’s a wonderful thing to know we have the capacity to really invest in these young men and women and give them the opportunity to dive 100% into their undergraduate studies and pursue things they really care about.”

Ramirez, who plans to pursue a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences with a concentration in genetics, cell and developmental biology at ASU, said the Flinn Scholarship allowed her to choose an area of study she’s passionate about rather than settling for one that’s affordable.

“Originally, I was going to go into an art major since art was going to be an easier major to fulfill — price-wise. But with this scholarship I can expand and take advantage of the money that’s being provided. I can do something better and more enjoyable that I love and apply it to helping people and having not necessarily a higher-paying job, but a more fulfilling job,” Ramirez said.

And Thomas, who also chose to attend ASU, where he plans to pursue a double major in economics and history, said the scholarship solves a major “financial headache” for his family.

“A big part of it (winning the Flinn Scholarship) is financing my college education. Just the practical reality that for the next four years everything is paid for. That’s just a burden removed,” Thomas said.

In addition to a full-ride education, Lassen said the scholarship will provide the scholars with two funded international travel experiences: a three-week cohort seminar and an independent trip.

“Travel is a really important component of the program,” she said. “We want them to be global citizens, and we see a lot of benefits from the experiences our scholars have abroad.”

Thomas said international travel will complement his area of study.

“I’m trying to go for an economics major. So, it’s giving me the opportunity to analyze how countries deal with financial issues and issues surrounding the economy,” he said.

Ramirez and Thomas will also have access to events where they will connect with current and alumni Flinn Scholars and receive guidance from them, Lassen said.

“We want them to really find a community both within their current scholar community that they can lean on and grow with, but also to reach out and be exposed to the alumni network that’s here to really support them and help them achieve their potential,” Lassen said.

Russell Dunham, principal at Ironwood High School, believes the Flinn Scholarship is a “life-changing” opportunity.

“The scholarship money itself is incredible. But along with it come these opportunities to do some amazing things. Being connected to a network and people who are Flinn Scholars, past and present; this chance to travel — what an absolutely amazing opportunity,” Dunham said.

And Laurie Barden, Ramirez’s counselor at Glendale High School, said the Flinn Foundation helps students in lower-income areas like Glendale branch out by providing international travel and exposing them to other cultures.

“It’s less likely for it to happen for our students than it is for students from higher-income families. So, for (Ramirez) to have that opportunity is amazing,” Barden said.

While Lassen said most of the applicants who apply for the Flinn Scholarship are high-achieving individuals, the selection committee looks beyond academics.

“It’s really other characteristics and accomplishments that set those that get selected for the award apart,” she said.

“We, at the end of the day, pick students who are really passionate about things. They have pursued activities and involvement in high school not just because they were looking to check off items on their (resumes).”

Fittingly, Ramirez — who is involved in a number of activities at her school including National Honors Society, theater and the AP (advanced placement) social studies club and volunteers at the Glendale Public Library — and Thomas — who is a member of the Spanish Honor and National Honors societies, is vice president of DECA and enjoys tutoring students at the library — stood out to the selection committee.

Ramirez, who is Hispanic, and Thomas, who was born in the United Arab Emirates, said it’s important for high school students from different backgrounds to have access to opportunities like the Flinn Scholarship.

“Meeting my fellow scholars, a lot of them were lower-income. They were not the most developed. And I think that’s a huge achievement — is giving kids from all corners of the state the opportunity to have a world-class education,” Thomas said.

Ramirez added, “Glendale is considered one of the ‘ghetto’ schools in the district. I hate labeling it like that because it’s not. It’s one of the most enriched and diverse.

“For me, the scholarship means a lot. It means just because you come from somewhere where people don’t expect much from the students there doesn’t mean you can’t do anything that anyone else can do.”