Hard work and dedication have paid off for Cameron Decker and Sarah Wilson. The Arizona Agribusiness & Equine Center (AAEC) high school students, who have been attending Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) concurrently, have been named Flinn Scholars.
Nearly 900 students applied for the Flinn scholarship, which is valued at more than $120,000. Cameron and Sarah are two of only 20 who received the illustrious award.
“The Flinn scholarship is one of the most competitive scholarships available to Arizona students,” said Dr. Dori Navarette-Lynch, EMCC Residential Counselor Faculty/Instructor CPD 150, who had Cameron and Sarah in her CPD 150, or Strategies for College Success, class their freshman year.
The full-ride Flinn scholarship covers tuition, fees, housing, and meals, as well as two study-abroad experiences, one to Beijing the summer after their freshman year, and another of their choice.
“We also get a $1,500 allowance per semester,” Sarah said. “That will help out a lot for things like books and parking passes.”
The goal of the Flinn scholarship is to keep Arizona’s best and brightest in Arizona. Flinn Scholars must attend Arizona State University (ASU), Northern Arizona University (NAU), or University of Arizona (UA).
“Cameron and Sarah are outstanding young people and definitely a role model for other students,” Dr. Navarette-Lynch said. “They were both leaders in our CPD 150 course, and even at the age of 14 were determined and focused not only on academics but also on developing and serving our community and their schools.”
Cameron and Sarah are the only two scholars to come from the same school this year. They are also the first students from their high school to receive the award.
“Having one student being offered this prestigious scholarship from AAEC is truly remarkable, but when I heard they were both offered this scholarship, I was astounded,” Dr. Navarette-Lynch said. “This speaks so much of the education they have received at AAEC coupled with the opportunities that EMCC has provided them. I truly believe the combination of high school and early college opportunities set them apart from many of the other applicants.”
Cameron, who will graduate from AAEC with 47 college credits, will attend ASU and work on concurrent degrees: a Bachelor of Arts in civic and economic thought and leadership and a Bachelor of Science in global agribusiness. He was accepted into Cornell University in New York and offered a full scholarship, but he declined it to stay in-state.
“I turned down a full-ride scholarship to Cornell,” he said. “When I met Michael Crowe, the president of ASU, he mentioned something from my application, which means he read my application and knew who I was, and cared about my success.”
Within days of each other, Cameron found out he was offered a full ride to Cornell and that he won the Flinn scholarship. He only had a few weeks to decide which one to accept.
“For me, the choice was easy,” he said. “Aside from the fact that I love the opportunities at the in-state universities here, I love the state of Arizona and I feel like I can have an impact in this state this young. I feel like that will take me further than having an education at an Ivy League where I have to fight for minimal opportunities.”
Sarah will be crossing two graduation stages this spring, one at AAEC as the school’s valedictorian and another May 10 with EMCC’s Class of 2019, before heading off to UA to pursue a Bachelor of Science in psychology and then transition into UA’s medical school with the ultimate goal of going into pediatric psychiatry.
“I’ll be getting my Associate of Arts from EMCC,” she said. “I actually have more than enough credits. I have close to 70.”
Graduating from high school with an associate degree is a rare feat.
“While students at AAEC typically graduate from high school with many college credits, it is not as common for students to complete both degrees simultaneously,” Dr. Navarette-Lynch said. “It means not only commitment during the school year, but in the summer, as well.”
Sarah was interviewing with Stanford University in California, but like Cameron, decided to take advantage of the Flinn scholarship, as well as the increased opportunities Arizona schools afford their students.
“When we made it to the semifinalist stage for the Flinn scholarship, we were taken on tours of the three public universities and shown top-of-the-line facilities and research opportunities, fellowship opportunities,” she said. “ And that’s where we saw there’s so much more opportunity here in-state. If I went to a school like Stanford, I’d have to fight for those opportunities, which are very restrictive and geared more toward their graduate students. Also, the in-state schools were excited to have us there and I felt like that relationship was better for me than going to an Ivy League school.”
The overachievers will definitely have a leg up on their fellow students, both in college credits already earned, and in time management skills they have developed. Not only did they take college courses while simultaneously attending high school, but they also completed 120 hours of community service, one of AAEC’s requirements, were members of FFA, and participated in multiple extracurricular activities such as club swim in Sarah’s case and horse training in Cameron’s.
“A Friday-night window is pretty much all we had as far as time for ourselves,” Sarah said.
Dr. Navarette-Lynch is confident they will continue to make a positive impact at their respective universities because of the skills and strategies they developed over the last four years.
“They understand how to navigate and seek out resources and take an active role in their education,” she said. “This is just one of the many benefits to the early college programs available to high school students.”
Cameron and Sarah, who both sought help from EMCC’s advisers, the tutoring center, and the writing center, agreed that the many resources the college offers its students were an immense help, and credit Dr. Navarette-Lynch with introducing them to those aids.
“I really attribute my success here at EMCC to the work Dr. Lynch put into us,” Cameron said. “She gave us the resources, and of course the curriculum was a part of that, but she really cared about us knowing what kind of resources we’ve got here at EMCC.”
Even though math has always been one of Cameron’s strong suits, he still struggled in calculus and sought help from the tutoring center.
“I struggled a little bit this semester because of everything I had going on where I wasn’t able to put as much effort outside of class into calculus,” he said. “There were a couple of weeks when I knew I had to catch up, so I went to the tutoring center and they helped me and now I have an A in calculus.”
For Sarah, one of the best perks of attending EMCC as a high school student was gaining insight into what she wants and expects out of her college experience.
“I understand now what I want from a college,” she said. “I was able to limit my options based on what I knew from coming here at this school. I know how I want my professors to behave, I know that I want smaller class sizes, and I know I want access to my professors. I felt very confident going into this process of choosing a college because I know what I want.”