Twenty Arizona high school seniors, including Chaparral High School student Kyle Polen, have been named Flinn Scholars, as part of its 34th class.
Polen, 18, along with the other students hailing from Tucson to Prescott across 19 high schools, will receive scholarships valued at more than $120,000 each to Arizona’s three public research universities.
The award covers tuition, fees, room and board and provides funding for at least two study-abroad experiences, including a three-week summer seminar in China for the full class following their freshman year.
“A lot of effort that was put into at school and outside the classroom and the things that I was passionate about did pay off in the end because now this is a great way for me to continue pursuing what I want to do now that I have the resources,” Polen said.
Polen has chosen to attend Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University in the fall and will take part in the pre-med program.
Of all of the teachers, advisors and mentors he’s had throughout his K-12 schooling, it’s his now-retired second grade teacher at Sequoya Elementary School, Janet Lottman, whom he credits for his academic success.
“‘You are the teacher who got me excited about learning,’” Polen wrote to Lottman, who read aloud his letter over the phone. “‘Thank you for recognizing how to motivate me academically and sending me on a path that made the subsequent school years much more enjoyable and worthwhile.’”
“He’s a very articulate, young man,” she said.
Lottman joined Polen and his parents at a Flinn Scholars celebration luncheon May 4 at Paradise Valley Country Club.
Polen is Lottman’s third student to become a Flinn Scholar and reunited with her at a Scottsdale Unified Governing Board meeting last month.
“It was our privilege to meet Kyle at this month’s governing board meeting, and we were so impressed,” said Superintendent John Kriekard. “His poise, community involvement and high academic achievements are just a few reasons why Kyle was selected for this scholarship.”
Polen was a student in Lottman’s final second-grade class in 2009.
“I’m so, so lucky that I taught for those years and I’m very fortunate to be retired and still think about my children,” Lottman said. “I did such an important job. In my career, you touch lives and you just never know when you are doing that and helping students love learning.”
Polen attended strictly Scottsdale Unified School District schooling, spending sixth through eighth grades at Cocopah Middle School and ninth through 12th grade at Chaparral High.
In Lottman’s class, Polen performed in a musical play of “Charlotte’s Web”; he played the role of Templeton, a rat who helped Charlotte save Wilbur from death.
“Templeton needed to be a little sassy, and [Kyle’s] personality fit it to a T,” Lottman said. “I would describe him as personality-plus, a twinkle in his eye, very curious, always questioning and self-motivated.”
Performing in Lottman’s plays enabled Polen to gain self-confidence and feel comfortable speaking publicly, she said.
“She was extremely encouraging,” Polen said. “I really attribute getting over that fear [of public speaking] to her and to her class. It’s a type of skill that is very important and I think has been very important for me in the following 10 years (after) I had her class.”
For example, Polen took improv acting classes and entered speech contests.
In high school, Polen also volunteered for several community service organizations, including as president of Chaparral’s International Club, which is affiliated with Scottsdale Sister Cities.
“Being able to host students at the school, having them come speak to the club, I think that was a great way to get some exposure, not only for the club itself and the organization, but being able to have some countries represented in some international students,” he said.
Polen spent two years volunteering at HonorHealth’s hospitals as well.
From cleaning beds, working the front desk and interacting with patients to shadowing doctors in the endoscopy unit, Polen’s experience at HonorHealth fueled his passion for pursuing a career in the medical field and becoming a physician himself.
“Whenever I would have a free moment, the doctor would invite me in to watch a procedure that he would talk me through. Just developing throughout the summer that interest in the field was really great; and the shadowing experiences, I’m so thankful for that,” he said. “It was great exposure for what I want to do someday.”
Polen emphasizes how fortunate he is to have had such supportive teachers, like Lottman, in the Scottsdale Unified School District.
“It takes a village,” Lottman said. “Kyle just had a thirst for knowledge and he chose me, but all the teachers nurtured him, motivated him.”
The 20 Flinn Scholars have achieved at least a 3.5 grade-point average, a top-5 percent class rank and a score of at least 1340 on the SAT or 29 on the ACT, and demonstrates exceptional leadership in extracurricular activities. They were chosen from a record-high number of 894 applicants.
“Each Flinn Scholar we meet is unique, but these students have something in common besides the capacity to excel in the classroom,” said Tammy McLeod, Flinn Foundation president and CEO. “They have deep dedication to their schools, communities, the future of Arizona and the world.”
The Flinn Scholars Program was established in 1986, and there are now nearly 650 current and alumni Flinn Scholars.
“The academic accomplishments, extracurricular involvement and dedication to service this group has demonstrated are remarkable, and we have high hopes for their future contributions,” said Anne Lassen, Flinn Scholars Program director, in a prepared statement. “We also want to commend all of the high-achieving students who applied and made this year’s selection so challenging.”