Two Flagstaff students have been named Flinn Scholars for 2022 recently.
Astrid Bell of Northland Preparatory Academy (NPA) and Mia Osmonbekov of BASIS Flagstaff are among 20 in the state to receive a full ride to one of Arizona’s public universities after they graduate this spring.
“The Flinn Scholars Program, supported by the Phoenix-based Flinn Foundation in partnership with Arizona’s three state universities, covers the cost of tuition, fees, housing, meals and at least two study abroad experiences,” according to a press release.
Both Bell and Osmonbekov are the third student at their school to receive this award.
The 20 Flinn Scholars are among 1,095 applications the program received last year. It is in its 37th year and is meant to recognize high-achieving seniors at Arizona high schools.
“This new class of Flinn Scholars persevered through a pandemic and excelled in the classroom as athletes, volunteers, musicians and school leaders during an incredibly challenging time,” said Anne Lassen, Flinn foundation vice president of scholarship and education initiatives. “The foundation is excited for what lies ahead for this new class of Flinn Scholars as they begin their undergraduate journeys intent on improving our state and world.”
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Osmonbekov said she first heard about the scholarship from one of her ninth-grade teachers, and, once she became a senior, thought she might as well apply.
“I didn’t actually expect to get it,” she said, though she was “very excited” to hear she’d won.
“I don’t think I really realized how expensive college was until I started getting financial offers from other places,” she said. “And I was really excited about the study abroad part and staying in Arizona too, because my parents are here. It’s a community I grew up with.”
She’s lived in Flagstaff most of her life and participates in a variety of activities, both in and out of the classrooms.
She’s been competing in chess tournaments across Arizona since she was 9, as her dad is a chess player and has been on the BASIS chess team all four years of high school. She is now team captain and they were regional champions this year.
She’s also done speech and debate since her sophomore year and said it was the extracurricular “that probably changed me the most.”
She mentioned the impromptu speaking event, during which students are given two minutes to prepare a five-minute speech on a random topic. In 11th grade, she placed second in the state division in the category.
“I think that really pushed me out of my comfort zone, because I’m usually not very good at talking to people in front of a room, but that forced me to be able to,” she said. “It’s one of my proudest achievements… . I’m one of those people that really likes to overly prepare for things and overthink things, so impromptu forced me to just take things as they come, at least for the moment.”
She also volunteers as a GED and ESL tutor at the Literacy Center, startin with one-on-one tutoring to help adult learners with their English skills. During the pandemic, she taught intermediate ESL classes over Zoom.
Osmonbekov also started the Central Asia Project English initiative in June 2020. She joined with other high-schoolers across the United States to give Zoom lessons on English and help students prepare for the TOEFL exam.
“There’s this problem where, especially during the pandemic, a lot of girls in rural areas didn’t have great access to education, specifically English instruction,” she said of the reason for starting the program. “It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but there it’s a really big deal. If you’re somewhat proficient in English, you can basically get translator jobs, you can go overseas to study. … It’s a cool way for me to reconnect with my cultural heritage [Osmonbekov’s parents are from Kyrgyzstan], but also help out other people.
She added: “Accessible education is something I really hope I can advocate for when I’m in college and after college.”
Osmonbekov said she’s “excited that high school’s over, but also a little nervous for the future.”
“I don’t really know what college has in store, but I think it’s a normal feeling, it’s not too bad,” she said.
Her advice for other high school students was “do what feels right for you and don’t listen to other people’s advice if you don’t like doing it.“
After graduation, Osmonbekov plans to study journalism at Arizona State University. She says she’s “always loved” writing and is considering becoming an investigative journalist or foreign correspondent.
“I’ve gotten more political, gotten more into documentaries in the last couple years, so I thought it’d be really cool to be involved in either of those…. It just sounds really exciting and you get to uncover different things,” she said.
She said her passion for writing started with a lot of reading. Osmonbekov said she enjoys 19th-century literature and that it’s influenced her writing fiction and schoolwork.
One of her favorite books is “Vanity Fair” by William Makepeace Thakeray.
“I just like the satire element, how complex it is. It’s really fun to read,” she said.
She’s also a “Taylor Swift aficionado,” though had trouble choosing a favorite from her albums.
“I love all her albums, I overanalyze all the lyrics, I know too much,” she said.
Her senior project also has to do with literature, analyzing Albert de Morcef’s character arc in “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
“I’m arguing that Albert undergoes an epicurean to stoic ethical shift throughout the novel,” she said, though she noted that her definitions of the ethical concepts relied more on the French interpretation than their roots in ancient Greece. “… He evolves from this very pleasure-seeking personality where he’s really reliant on social validation to a more stoic view of the world, which derives inner validation. He puts virtue above everything else later on.”
BASIS senior projects also include two presentations and a related internship. Osmonbekov’s was working with a philosophy professor from Northern Arizona University. She said she chose the topic because of her love for the book since she first read it in middle school.
“It’s just really great, it has this overarching plot, but there will be subplots that feed into it,” she said. “The prose is just glorious and wonderful, so I just thought it would be exciting.”
Bell said hearing she was named a Flinn Scholar was “really overwhelming.”
“I probably made incoherent noises for about a minute,” she said of hearing the news.
She first learned about the scholarship through a school counselor, though wasn’t sure whether to apply at first because the process was so rigorous.
Bell said she couldn’t have gotten the scholarship without help from her “huge support network.”
“It definitely wasn’t just me alone that got the Flinn Scholarship,” she said. “I have incredibly intelligent and supportive parents that helped me through this process and prepare for interviews and get a blazer that actually fits….. [My little sister is] one of those people that’s really good at staying in the moment, so she was able to keep me grounded and centered, and put everything in perspective. The teachers at school that wrote endless letters of recommendation for me, the counselors that kept me going…. I want to say a huge thank you to all of them.”
She advised other students to try things, even if they don’t seem likely, using this experience as an example.
“Just apply,” she said. “There’s going to be plenty of rejections and they’ll be disappointing for sure, but there’s always the chance you’ll get accepted, and I feel like that’s worth the risk.
Bell plans on attending the University of Arizona after graduating and says the school’s research focus was what appealed to her.
“Undergraduate research is super important to me and UofA has tons of opportunities where even freshmen in their second semester of school can get into the lab, start getting hard lab experience. I want to start doing medical and biomedical research as soon as I can.”
She plans to major in molecular and cellular biology on the premed track and is considering a minor or double major in Spanish.
She said she’s always loved the way science can be seen in the real world and was inspired by her childhood pediatrician.
“From a young age, I idolized her. I was like, ‘I want to do exactly what she does’ and it kind of stuck,” Bell said. “As I grew up, my interests aligned with medicine and I had the chance to shadow her a bunch of times in the past couple years. Seeing what she does, where she interacts with patients and what her life looks like on a day to day basis just feels right for me.”
UofA is also the right distance from home, she said.
“I wanted to have the chance to be far enough away that I can start establishing my own independence and learn how to problem solve without my mom and dad right there, start adulting with safety nets ”
Bell spent her early years and most of high school in Flagstaff, with a three-year break when her family moved to Munich, Germany, for her mother’s job. She attended an international school for seventh through ninth grade.
Bell said she felt the experience gave her a new perspective on both locations, including attending a variety of schools with different approaches to teaching.
“I think a lot of times, it’s easy to get stuck in having your own little bubble, your own little world and forget that the rest of the world exists,” she said. “I think moving abroad was super helpful in opening my eyes and giving me that global perspective that I think I wouldn’t have fully understood otherwise. It’s also given me a lot more empathy for people who are different or don’t fit in or even just are new, because I understand exactly what that feels like.”
She’s kept busy in her time at NPA, participating in the anti-racism coalition, raising awareness of mental health in younger students and serving as president of its chapter of the National Honor Society.
Bell has played soccer for as long as she can remember, starting as a 3- or 4-year-old. In addition to being the captain of NPA’s soccer team this year and playing on its team throughout high school, she plays on a traveling soccer team.
She also started a medical club with other NPA students who are interested in the field as their future career. They share resources, Bell said, and are currently all reading “The Unseen Body: A Doctor’s Journey Through the Hidden Wonders of Human Anatomy” by Jonathan Reisman.
The club started during the pandemic, which gave them the opportunity to keep up with medical news as it was unfolding.
“Definitely during the pandemic was a time when we were doing a bunch of stuff on what does medical research look like? What does vaccine development look like? … Obviously it was a global pandemic and it was a really tough time. But it was really cool from a research point of view, where we’re living through a huge event that we don’t just have to learn about through a book. We can see the effects of it; we’re learning about it with the medical and research communities.”
Bell said she was “definitely ready” to finish her time in high school, but she found college “mildly terrifying.”
“I’m definitely super excited to take these next steps and start personalizing my education, such that I’m learning about the things I’m super passionate about,” she said, “…but it definitely also feels really soon.”
Her advice to peers is to “find a balance.”
“It is super important that you’re setting up your next steps and that you’re getting ready for your future, but equally important are the things that keep you happy, the things that keep you grounded, the things that keep you present,” she said. “Because we are in this moment, even though we’re preparing for the next one.”