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Five Tucson Seniors chosen for AZ's most prestigious scholarship

2022 Flinn Scholars receive full tuition and a sense of community
Posted at 7:52 AM, May 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-13 10:52:54-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — As graduating seniors look forward to college, many also worry about paying for their upcoming education. That's not the case for at least five students from Tucson who were selected for the state's most competitive and prestigious scholarship.

"I opened my email and I dropped everything I was doing. I was in the middle of practice, I ran out and cried. I was really excited," says Alicia Salazar Contreras of Cholla High School, who was among those chosen for the high honor.

The following list of students were part of the twenty across Arizona selected for the Flinn Foundation's scholarship.

  • Portia Cooper, Sequoia Choice Arizona Distance Learning
  • Alicia Salazar Contreras, Cholla High School
  • Yaritza Durazo, Sunnyside High School
  • Karah Mayer, Tanque Verde High School
  • Noah Wellman, Catalina Foothills High School

Now in its 37th year, the Flinn Scholarship offers a full ride to one of Arizona's three public universities and a sense of community, giving them a little less to worry about as they transition to college.

"Beforehand I had no way of paying for college and so I'll be basically going there without having to have a second job," said Yaritza Durazo, a graduating senior from Sunnyside High School.

Durazo is one of five high school seniors from Southern Arizona who was selected to receive the Flinn Scholarship.

Noah Wellman, of Catalina Foothills High School, said he too was concerned about student debt prior to receiving the scholarship.

"A little bit of surprise, maybe a little bit of relief that I have the opportunity to go to college without accumulating a lot of student debt, which I know is an increasing problem with people my age," he said.

The value of the scholarship is more than $130,000. In addition to tuition, the funds also cover study abroad, according to Anne Lassen, Flinn Foundation Vice President, Scholarship and Education Initiatives.

"These are remarkable individuals who are making a really big impact not just in Arizona but really just across the country and around the world," said Lassen.

The competition for this academic award is steep; students selected had to compete with about a thousand peers who sent in applications for the honor.

Tanque Verde High School senior, Karah Mayer, plans to attend Arizona State University on her Flinn Scholarship. She says she will study biology, but said she has a range of academic achievements.

"I've also been in advanced placement calculus and I really love math," said Mayer. "So I'm definitely a STEM person but on top of that I've taken a lot of AP classes and history and English."

Earning a Flinn Scholarship also helps the incoming freshmen feel that they're part of a community, meeting other Flinn Scholars and professors prior to entering college.

Durazo, who plans to study physics, said "I already made a couple of friends of the Flinns and they're amazing. I cant wait to start college and have that support system."

"It's sort of a symbol of trust for professors that they can more openly let Flinn scholars do research with them," said Wellman, who plans to attend the University of Arizona as a physics student.

Portia Cooper, a Sequoia Choice Arizona Distance Learning senior, plans to study computer science.

"I'm really interested in the applications of computer science in climate change or computer science in social justice," Cooper said.

The selection process takes into account students' academic success, as well as their extracurricular interests. For students planning to apply for a Flinn Scholarship in the future, Lasses said that the foundation looks for more than just which classes the students are taking.

"Get involved in things that spark your interest because when you're doing something that you really care about its easy to devote the hours that are required from leadership positions in various clubs and organizations," said Lassen.

"They're really interested in seeing [how] what you're interested in doing will overlap with all your passions," said Portia Cooper, a senior at Sequoia Choice Arizona Distance Learning,

Passions that these soon-to-be college students hope will change the world.

To learn more about the Flinn Foundation, visit their website,

Lydia Camarillo is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. Lydia is no stranger to the Old Pueblo. She has been reporting in Tucson for more than a decade and has been involved in numerous projects highlighting folks in the community. Share your story ideas and important issues with Lydia by emailing or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Anne Simmons is the digital executive producer for KGUN 9. Anne got her start in television while still a student at the University of Arizona. Before joining KGUN, she managed multiple public access television stations in the Bay Area and has worked as a video producer in the non-profit sector. Share your story ideas and important issues with Anne by emailing or by connecting on Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn.