Three students were awarded The Matthew Paul Finnigan Memorial Scholarship for the 2019/20 School Year.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE / PRURGENT
Today, the Autism Society of California, the Finnigan family, and the Community Foundation for Monterey County announced the names of three highly qualified California students who won Achievement Scholarship awards through the National Achievement Scholarship Program.
Christian Pianowski of Encinitas was awarded $1,500, and Summer West of San Diego and Zachary Becker of Glendora each received $500. The Scholarship Selection Committee stated that these three individuals were selected based on the breadth of their experiences, demonstrated ability to overcome adversity, and commitment to pursuing careers assisting others.
Christian Pianowski will be graduating from Del Lago Academy in Escondido on May 31, 2019. He plans to pursue a Bachelor of Science Degree in Information Technology and Engineering at The College Program for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. His community service activities have included interning in his school district’s IT Department, being active in his Boy Scout Troop, and serving as a volunteer counselor for a children’s summer camp. Christian’s AP Calculus teacher described him as having “the perfect mindset for lifelong learning and professional collaboration,” and cited perseverance, fortitude and a dry sense of humor among his many strong character traits. Christian is interested in a career in cybersecurity, network maintenance, or possibly electrical engineering because he wants “to make the world a safer and more efficient planet to live on . . . to make the world a better place and to exceed the limits that are presented to us.”
Summer West grew up in Fort Defiance, Virginia and is now in graduate school at San Diego State University, where she will be completing a Master’s Degree in Rhetoric and Writing with Certificate in Cognitive Disability. Her thesis will focus on neurodiversity and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in college writing centers and writing programs, and she has already begun developing a guide for faculty in post-secondary writing programs. Like many adults in the autism community, Summer’s diagnosis with Autism Spectrum Disorder came after she reached adulthood. She has studied, lived, and worked in various cultures and countries all over the world, and her goal now is to take the breadth of her work and life experience, along with her academic research, and “to merge the study of rhetoric with disability studies and neurodiversity theory in higher education . . . to begin actively investigating new practices for supporting students with neurodiverse profiles . . . [and to] empower these students to disclose their neurodiversity without shame, recognizing that their unique abilities and potential can contribute greatly."
Zachary Becker graduated from Glendora High School in May 2018 and currently attends Citrus Community College, with a plan to transfer to California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), Pomona. A member of the National Honor Society, he intends to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering, then go on to graduate study in either Mechanical or Civil Engineering at California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech). Zachary earned his Eagle Scout Rank plus twelve Eagle Palms, and continues his active involvement in Scouting via the Order of the Arrow (the Boy Scouts Honor Society). Through Scouting, he has done extensive community service in soil conservation, resource recovery/recycling, and forestry and land management, is a recipient of the OA Founders Award, and earned the Bronze Hornaday Medal in recognition of his significant conservation work. Zachary credits much of his success to Scouting, saying “without the leadership skills my volunteering has taught me, I would not be able to interact with other people nor know how to motivate others to achieve.”
The Matthew Paul Finnigan Memorial Scholarship Fund honors the memory of Matthew Finnigan, a young adult with ASD whose life was taken before he could achieve his goal of helping others. Matthew was attending college in Monterey and planned to use his educational interests in STEM fields, as well as experiences facing and overcoming challenges, to research and analyze biological and environmental factors and develop interventions that might reduce the symptoms of ASD. When asked what is truly important in life, Matthew wrote, "You have a legacy that will live on as long as their stories about you keep being told," and reminded his reader to "always look on the bright side of life."
This permanently endowed fund was established with gifts from the Finnigan family and friends, and matching funds from Chevron, to assist students with ASD whose interests align with those Matthew had, to realize their educational goals.
The Matthew Paul Finnigan Memorial Scholarship program is open to California students with ASD (DSM-IV or later criteria) studying full-time or part-time and pursuing a career in the fields of Psychiatry, Psychology, Statistics, Chemistry, Math, researching ways of reducing the challenges of autism, or a career which will help adolescents on the Autism Spectrum. The Autism Society of California is honored to assist the Community Foundation and the Finnigan family in the application and selection process for this important award.
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If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Beth Burt at 1-800-869-7069 or email at autismsocietycagmail.com.