More than 550 high school seniors from throughout the state of Arizona applied for the 2012 Flinn Scholarship, but only 22 of Arizona’s most talented students were admitted to the 27th annual class of Flinn Scholars. This distinction includes in-state tuition, room and board at any Arizona public university, mentorship by a university faculty member in the Scholar’s field of study, opportunities to study abroad, and additional benefits. Each award, provided through a partnership between the Flinn Foundation and the universities, has a total value of more than $100,000. Jonathan “Jonny” Woodbury, 17, is the first homeschooler in the program’s history to receive this honor.
Being awarded the prestigious Flinn Scholarship involves an application and interview process even more competitive than that for the most selective colleges and universities. Candidates must complete a thorough application form, and participate in two interviews with a selection committee comprised of distinguished Arizona leaders. Jonny’s two older sisters had also applied for Flinn Scholarships and his eldest sister made it to the first round of interviews. “I was really shocked,” Jonny admitted, “because both of my sisters are really smart so if they didn’t make it to the end, how can I?”
According to Matt Ellsworth, Flinn Scholars Program Director (and a 1993 Flinn Scholar): “Every year we have a number of homeschooled students apply for the Flinn Scholarship. The qualifications they need to attain are equivalent to those required of students at public and private high schools.” He further explained, “Our interviewers on our final selection committee were struck by Jonny’s thoughtfulness and capacity to discuss articulately a wide variety of topics, from the U.S. space program, to constitutional law, to the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard.”
The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard is one of Jonny’s role models along with such varied individuals as the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, President Calvin Coolidge, the dancer Fred Astaire, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor who spoke out against Adolf Hitler. Jonny’s deep and diverse knowledge can be credited in part to his homeschool education, as well as his regular habit of reading the New York Times, the New Yorker, politico.com and other news media.
Besides being a Flinn Scholar, Jonny is a National Merit Finalist – one of the top high-school students nationally – and has long been a member of the Math Counts team. Jonny, who says “I love numbers and patterns,” had his sights set on MIT and CalTech for a degree in math and computer science, but he was also considering ASU because “I’ve always liked the idea of not going far away for school.” Jonny is thinking of pursuing a career in data journalism (analyzing data for the purpose of creating a news story).
Jonny is the youngest of three children to be homeschooled by their engineer parents, Pam and Dave. The Woodburys decided to begin homeschooling when their oldest daughter was four years old. Because of her fall birthday, she would have had to wait to start kindergarten until she was nearly six, but she was already reading. Pam, an electrical engineer who retired to stay home with her children, never regretted their decision to homeschool. “There are just so many options, so much opportunity, so much fun to be had,” Pam declared. “In homeschool, you have flexibility. Jonny was always able to pursue his interest,” she added.
The Woodburys took advantage of the many different learning paths that are available to homeschooling families, from co-ops and groups to online courses and community college classes. Although Pam was responsible for providing most of the academic instruction for her son and daughters, she gives much of the credit for Jonny’s success to others – his music and percussion teachers, a friend’s parent who taught English courses, and the community college professors who helped shape her son’s education.
Jonny took a chemistry class at Chandler-Gilbert Community College during his sophomore year of high school. For his junior year he enrolled in Spanish as well as additional math and science classes. Jonny completed his senior year of high school studies entirely at the community college. This fall he will attend the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University to undertake a dual major in math and computer science. “College shouldn’t be too different with all the classes now at CGCC,” noted Jonny about his transition to the university.
Jonny is a self-described “Writer, poet, musician, composer, and general art lover, but I get paid to do math.” (He’s been tutoring math and physics at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.) Jonny has many extracurricular interests including music composition, jazz, and right-to-life activism. He is the editor of a pro-life blog run by teens, called Voices for the Voiceless, for which he spends countless hours dedicated to protecting the rights of the unborn. Jonny looks forward to continuing with his community involvement and musical interests while at ASU.
As an accomplished musician and composer with a diverse musical background and eclectic influences, Jonny’s primary musical study has emphasized vibraphone and hand percussion, but his musical training includes classical percussion, drumset, and piano. He performs regularly as a member of a local community percussion ensemble and several jazz combos – both in school settings and professionally – and has been featured as a soloist with these groups. Additionally, he has performed as a guest with the Chandler-Gilbert Community College Big Band, and played percussion with the CGCC College Singers at the Arizona Music Educators Association Convention.
Among his musical activities, Jonny has participated in numerous local and national jazz and percussion camps including the Arizona State University Latin Jazz Camp and he University of Central Florida Mallet & Percussion Camp. He was a member of the inaugural AZPAS High School Honor Percussion Ensemble, and was recognized as an outstanding performer at several AZPAS Days of Percussion. Jonny also plays percussion and drumset with his church worship team.
Jonny recently co-published a book titled Outside the Box with Josh Gottry, Adjunct Professor of Music at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. Available from C. Alan Publications, it’s a collection of percussion compositions including four progressive solos and one duet for cajon. Each piece is intended to develop comfort with a variety of sounds and to assist the performer in creating a vocabulary of idiomatic and creative grooves for the instrument. The duo can be seen performing one of the songs at http://youtu.be/1pyY1gf7tSA
About Flinn Scholars
Flinn Scholars is among a handful of statewide or regional merit-based undergraduate scholarship programs run by private philanthropies. The Flinn Scholars Program began in 1986 and is supported by the Phoenix-based nonprofit Flinn Foundation. The Flinn Foundation is a privately endowed, philanthropic grantmaking organization established in 1965 by Dr. Robert S. and Irene P. Flinn to improve the quality of life in Arizona to benefit future generations.
The Flinn Scholarship is considered to be one of the top merit scholarships in the country, providing for a world-class undergraduate education. In addition to the financial benefits, which include college tuition and funding for study abroad, it provides mentorship from faculty; exposure to community and world leaders; and fellowship in an extraordinary community of current and alumni Flinn Scholars. The Class of 2012 is only the second to have more than 20 students.
In addition to U.S. citizenship and Arizona residency, baseline requirements for this year’s Flinn Scholarship applicants included: a minimum 3.5 grade-point average; a ranking in the top 5 percent of their graduating class; a minimum score of 1300 on the SAT test or 29 on the ACT; and demonstrated leadership abilities. As a group, the 2012 Scholars averaged 1470 out of 1600 on the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and 32 out of 36 on the American College Test (ACT). Merit, demonstrated by academic and personal achievement, is the only factor in selection. Financial need is not a consideration.
The online application for the Flinn Scholarship includes a form that collects biographical and family data; a personal-information sheet on school and community activities, employment, and current studies; and three essay questions. Two teacher recommendations and a report from a guidance counselor are also required to be submitted electronically. In addition to the online report, guidance counselors must mail a copy of the student’s transcripts, including information on course work, class rank, grade-point average, and scores on standardized tests.
For homeschooled applicants, the required counselor recommendation and transcript are typically provided by the parent who took primary responsibility for the student’s education. That letter must provide information about the curriculum and homeschooling approach. The other two letters of recommendation must be from persons who taught the student in an academic course at an accredited institution: high school, community college, or university. “It is essential that we receive this independent assessment of the student’s academic and social performance in a group context like those he/she will encounter at university,” states the Flinn Scholarship website.
Flinn Scholars come from every corner of Arizona, and they choose concentrations in virtually every discipline – athletics, business, creative writing, education, filmmaking, law, medicine, music, politics, science, etc. “These students have impeccable academic records, though that alone is not sufficient to become a Flinn Scholar,” concludes Matt Ellsworth. “Equally important is what the student has done outside the classroom—in school clubs, within the community, and through their own pursuits. We’re looking for well-rounded individuals who will make a mark on Arizona and the world.”
Applications for the 2013 Flinn Scholarship are available starting in mid-August. The application deadline will likely be in mid-October. Learn more about the application process, criteria, and strategies by reading “What it Takes to Earn a Flinn Scholarship” at http://www.flinnscholars.org/what-it-takes.