Sophia Hammer Eugenia Trakal Jennifer Tran Aryan Mathur Hanaan Abdulle

Five Gilbert residents are among the 35 high school seniors who are finalists for a prestigious merit-based scholarship that pays for all four years’ tuition and other academic perks one of Arizona’s three public university systems.

The Gilbert finalists are Hanaan Abdulle from Highland High School; Sophia Hammer and Eugenia Trakal from Gilbert Classical Academy; Aryan Mathur from Chandler High School; and Jennifer Tran from Mesquite High School.

No other community fielded as many finalists for the scholarship.

  “Our selection committee will have a very difficult task in choosing the Class of 2021 Flinn Scholars,” said Anne Lassen, Flinn Foundation vice president of scholarship and education initiatives in a released statement. 

“The 35 finalists are all incredibly gifted student leaders, representing a diverse mix of schools and cities, who we would be proud to have as Flinn Scholars.”

Nearly 1,000 Arizona high-school seniors applied last fall for the Class of 2021 Flinn Scholarship. The chosen 20 winners will be announced in April after an interview process in March.

Each scholarship is valued over $120,000 and covers tuition, fees, housing, meals and study abroad.  

The application process began last August, resulting in 951 applications from 209 high schools, 73 cities and towns, and 13 of the state’s 15 counties.

The Gilbert Sun News reached out to each five students with questions. Those who responded told us more about themselves.


Sophia Hammer

Age: 18

Extracurriculars: “I dedicate the majority of my time towards activism! I am a part of Arizona March For Our Lives, working as the East Valley Region Lead and organizing high schools in order to fight and lobby for gun reform and more suicide prevention measures.

 I am an intern at Arizona Jews For Justice, where I work aiding homeless communities, educating on gun violence prevention, and providing aid to asylum seekers. I run the Activism For Our Lives Club at my school and we focus on making our school as inclusive as possible working with organizations like GLSEN Arizona, Red for Ed, and March for Our Lives. Besides activism, I really love writing and am in the Poetry Club and write for the school paper.”

Recognitions/awards: Oberlin High School Book Award, awarded to one high school junior for work in social justice; Magna Cum Laude on the National Latin Exam; Principal’s List;  First Place Science Fair and attended and competed in AZSEF State Science Fair.

Which state university?  “I am committed to the University of Arizona. UofA has an amazing small-town feel and really amazing small businesses. I love the small-college town feel that UofA has. As someone who is progressive and wants to go into local government it is the perfect place. I am also Jewish and the Jewish community in Tucson is very large, so it will definitely be a welcoming environment. 

“The university has an amazing program/major called Politics, Philosophy, Economics, and Law. I love philosophy and political thought. Because I want to go into politics, I think it is essential to learn philosophy because it is the basis for all political thought. Economics and law will also aid me in my political journey. PPEL also has a club for students in the major, which is an amazing way to meet others that want to go into the same field as me.  I also want to minor in public policy and government.” 

Planned major/career: “I want to major in PPE. The major is amazing because it teaches the foundations of moral and historical economic, political and legal institutions. I am dedicated to serving Arizona and believe there isn’t enough emphasis on local government. 

“I want to eventually run a progressive campaign for a school board or town council whether that be in Gilbert or in Tucson. And one day hopefully I get to represent my community in the state Legislature. In college I hope to continue my work for activist organizations and working as an organizer for progressive campaigns (especially local campaigns).” 

Role model: “My teacher, Elise Villescaz, is my role model. She is dedicated to teaching and education in Arizona and fights for the safety and health of students and teachers always. Although she isn’t currently my teacher, she encourages me every day to be my best self and fight for the change I want to see in my community. She has attended several activist events with me and pushed me to be a better student and leader.” 

How hard was the pandemic on your schooling and how did you overcome those challenges? “I struggle with mental-health problems so it is hard for me to keep up with school especially when there are so many changes happening within the Gilbert Public Schools District. 

“The amount of work that teachers have been doing in order to make learning as interactive and fun as possible is truly what makes me ready and excited to learn every day even if this year is very far from normal. Being able to take mental health breaks and talk about my emotions whether that be with a teacher or friend or through writing has helped me overcome the challenges of this year. 

“Participating in activism events, even if they are online, has also been an outlet for me and a way to aid the community. We all are going through a pandemic so it is hard on a lot of us. We need to check up on one another and help each other during these times.”


Eugenia Trakal 

Age: 17

Extracurriculars: Founder and president of Spanish Club; Secretary of Mu Alpha Theta (Mathematics Honor Society), Music Council, and Spartan Athlete Leadership Team; Member of Ambassadors Club and National Honor Society; Principal violinist for the Youth Symphony of the Southwest; Co-captain on the Girls’ Varsity Tennis Team; Self-employed violin teacher; Instructor at Mathnasium Tutoring Center; Finance manager for her team’s community service project through ASU’s Engineering Projects in Community Service Program; Head teen volunteer at Friend’s Place Bookstore; Volunteer math and Spanish tutor at school.

Awards: National Hispanic Scholar, Hispanic Scholarship Fund Scholar, Hispanic Heritage Foundation Scholarship winner, Triple-Impact Competitor Scholarship winner; Coca-Cola Scholarship semifinalist; GE-Reagan Foundation Scholarship semifinalist; United Nations Association of National Community Service Ambassador; AP Scholar with Honor; Three-time violinist for the Regional Orchestra; Three-time National Spanish Exam gold medalist; Most Valuable Player on Girls’ Varsity Tennis Team; First place, ASU’s Engineering Projects in Community Service Program; ASU Fleischer Scholar; Indiana University Balfour Scholar; Indiana University Young Women’s Institute Case Competition winner; Candidate for U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.

Which state university? “I am leaning towards ASU. Last fall, I attended ASU’s Fleischer Scholars Program, a business institute for under-represented minorities. Through the program, I discussed with current students and faculty about my interests in the intersection of finance, international business and sustainability. Having the opportunity to converse and learn from both students and faculty has provided me with an intimate relationship to the W.P. Carey School of Business.”

Planned major/career: “I hope to double major in finance and global studies with a minor in sustainability. I am captivated by the practice of impact investing – deploying charitable capital in ways that create both a social and financial return, often leveraging additional financing to bring projects to scale and achieve greater impact. 

“In the long-term, I plan to work for a nonprofit, like the Arizona Community Foundation, or a nongovernmental organization, like the United Nations, to mobilize the financial sector’s support for sustainable development.”

Role model: “My role models are my parents, who had the courage and strength to leave their families behind in Argentina to provide their children with greater opportunities. I am who I am today because I came from hard-working, humble, and loving parents who sacrificed their own lives for their children.” 

How hard was the pandemic on your schooling and how did you overcome those challenges?  “While the transition to primarily online schooling was difficult because of the lack of interaction with peers, I personally took advantage of my flexible schedule to set up meetings with my new Global Academy teachers and to establish relationships with peers to break the technological divide, while successfully preparing for my AP exams. 

“The pandemic has definitely taught me about the importance of persevering through obstacles and taking the initiative. Above all though, I am grateful for my teachers who have accommodated to students’ needs and prioritized our well-being, while still pushing our academic horizons.”


 Jennifer Tran

Age: 18

Extracurriculars: “Power To The Period Arizona, #Fight4HER Arizona, Speech and Debate, photography. 

Awards: AP Scholar with Distinction, Mesquite High School Golden Scholar. 

Which state university? “Currently, I am in the process of attending virtual visits for all public Arizona universities, so I have not picked a university yet. I am visiting each school with an open mind, but as of right now, I am drawn to ASU and UofA because they both have strong sociology programs. 

Planned major/career: “I plan on majoring in sociology because I want to study factors in society that contribute to social injustice and discover the solutions to problems that exist in the status quo. Through sociology, I want to help create a more equitable world.  

Role model: “My older sister is my role model. My sister has always unapologetically pursued her passions, which inspires me to do the same in my academic career and personal life. 

How hard was the pandemic on your schooling and how did you overcome those challenges?  “Due to the pandemic, it was difficult for me to fully absorb information in my classes because online learning is extremely independent. To combat this, I sought out extra help by visiting my teachers’ virtual office hours and took advantage of educational videos and resources online.