Students awarded The Matthew Paul Finnigan Memorial Scholarship for the 2023/24 School Year
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE / PRURGENT
Today, the Autism Society of California, the Finnigan family, and the Community Foundation for Monterey County proudly announces the names of three highly qualified California students who won Achievement Scholarship awards through the National Achievement Scholarship Program.
Emma Blanck of Moorpark received this year’s 1st place scholarship award of $2,000. Clara Garcia of Riverside was awarded the 2nd place $1,000 scholarship and Cory Brown of Tustin received the 3rd place award of $750. The Scholarship Selection Committee singled out these three individuals based on their strong educational foundations, personal determination, demonstrated ability to overcome adversity, and commitment to pursuing challenging careers assisting others, especially those on the autism spectrum.
After graduating from Moorpark High School in 2020, Emma Blanck enrolled at Moorpark Community College, where she studied Psychology, Child Development and American Sign Language. She graduates this month and will transfer to California Lutheran University in the fall, completing her degree in Psychology, with the ultimate goal of pursuing a Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy. She has been working to assist and support students with autism spectrum disorders since High School, first as a volunteer assistant in special education classrooms, and more recently, as a respite caregiver for Channel Islands Social Services. Emma served on the Board of Moorpark’s Delta Alpha Pi chapter, an honors society for students with disabilities, which she credits with creating “a safe space and community for students with disabilities on campus.” When asked about her future aspirations, Emma stated, “I strongly believe in equal access to communication, and my background in American Sign Language will help me to communicate with kids who are non-speaking or use signs to express themselves.” Reflecting on how her own lived experience as an autistic woman will inform her future work, she shared, “I want to provide that kind of connection to these kids so that they feel less alone.”
Clara Garcia will graduate from Riverside Poly High School later this month and enroll at the University of California, Riverside, where she plans to major in Psychology with a focus on Forensics. She also has graduate school plans in mind, eventually hoping to pursue a Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology at the University of Texas. Clara is not one to be easily deterred; during the COVID stay-at-home order, in collaboration with Autism Society Inland Empire, she created a weekly virtual social group for autistic girls ages 13-17, to give them an opportunity to “come and chat, virtually, about what they were worried about, what they were excited about, what was going on in their lives, and what kind of things they liked.” She continued facilitating this group for two years, all the while completing her own high school college preparation program. She sets her goals high so that she might “show to the autism community that having autism shouldn’t stop anyone from achieving their dreams.”
Cory Brown will also graduate at the end of May, leaving Arnold O. Beckman High School for the University of Arizona, where he plans to major in Mechanical Engineering. A member of National Honor Society, California Scholarship Federation and National League of Young Men, Cory has accumulated nearly two hundred hours of volunteer community service. He seeks out opportunities to educate both his peers and the larger community about neurodiversity and ableism, stating that he wants to “help people understand that labels have no effect on the great things we can achieve.” When asked how his future work will provide a positive contribution to the autism community, Cory responded, “I plan to be a changemaker Engineer with a focus on empathy for others.”
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 Sandra Dixon Shove at 1-800-869-7069 or email scholarshipautismsocietyca.org.