Ritisha “Risha” Das – who as of last Thursday became a Gilbert Classical Academy graduate – has earned a prestigious Flinn Scholarship, enabling her to get a college education debt-free.
The Mesa resident is one of 19 members of Arizona’s high school Class of 2020 to receive the merit-based award, which includes coverage of full tuition, mandatory fees, housing and meals at one of the three state universities.
“I am so grateful for my parents and my school community at Gilbert Classical Academy,” Risha said, adding they both “have truly helped me thrive and supported me beyond my imagination.”
Risha, one of the academy’s valedictorians, plans to attend Arizona State University and pursue a double major of mechanical engineering and mathematics with a combined bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a 4+1 program.
“I have loved solving math riddles since I was a second grader, even now dissecting differential equation proofs for fun,” Risha said.
“As a mechanical engineer, I hope to engineer interdisciplinary solutions of space and math. I am fascinated with the space cross-applications of engineering, especially after I learned how engineers utilized experiments on the International Space Station to create artificial organs, eliminating the need for transplant procedures and saving thousands of lives.”
Risha said she hoped to utilize her technical and leadership competency to encourage young girls to pursue STEM careers to “help dismantle the prevalent gender gap.”
Risha volunteers at the La Mesita Afterschool Program at A New Leaf shelter for families in crisis.
“I read stories with the children to increase their linguistic fluency, help them with homework and play games to build their learning-capabilities,” she said. “But beyond helping with their education, I care for the children, listen to their stories, and offer them the emotional support they may lack at home.
“I love helping out with this foundation because these children inspire me every day. They so positively perceive the world despite the hardships they endure. They invigorate me with such gratitude to be alive and remind me to treasure the small joys of life.”
Risha’s path in becoming a Flinn Scholar was paved with hard work and many school achievements that included president of the speech and debate team, vice president of Model UN and her selection as a NASA Ambassador of 2020 International Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy.
She was recognized as an AP Scholar with Distinction, a State Golden Scholar and was Silver Lettered in vocal music.
According to her school, Risha stands out because she genuinely cares about others and has a passion to inspire girls to become engineers.
When she’s not volunteering or doing her school work, Risha indulges in music.
“Music is a constant in my life, beyond performing in the top jazz vocal ensemble at my school, Advanced Vocal, I love performing solo,” Risha said.
“I just adore the feeling of moving audiences to tears or laughs through the power of an emotional song. I also learn jazz tunes on the piano whenever I can.”
The self-motivating teenager also is a fan of literature and penning creative stories, writing poetry on pressing social issues and reading the fast-paced adventures of Colleen Houck.
Risha, who wants to be a role models for others, is already one for her younger sister, Rika, 15.
“She is my absolute best friend in the world,” Risha said.
She credits her parents for her success.
“My parents are the reason why I’m a Flinn Scholar,” Risha said. “Their motivational speeches and beautiful view of the world allowed me to realize the potential I have to create change. I hope, as a Flinn Scholar, to always spread that same love, joy, and support for those around me as I start the next chapter of my life.”
Risha is Gilbert Classical Academy’s second Flinn scholar in as many years. Amamda Schuerman in 2019 is attending ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College.
A record 1,014 Arizona high-school seniors applied for the scholarships this year.
“Each year, this rigorous and competitive application process offers us a glimpse into the potential and impact of Arizona students. I continue to be amazed at their academic accomplishment and dedication to extracurricular activities that serve the community,” said Flinn Foundation President/CEO Tammy McLeod.
Red Mountain High School in Mesa was the only school with two 2020 Flinn Scholars.
The 19 Flinn Scholars represent public district schools, public charter schools and one private school.
The 19 students have selected a wide range of fields for their studies, including entrepreneurship, biology, astrophysics, philosophy, pre-veterinary medicine, public policy, chemical engineering, linguistics, pre-neuroscience, and physiology.
There are over 650 current and alumni Flinn Scholars, including about 80 studying at the three public state universities at any given time.
The scholarship’s benefits include membership in a university honors college, which offers amenities such as small classes, access to top researchers and guest lectures.
Additionally, students receive personal mentoring from top faculty and exposure to Arizona and global leaders in business, government, science and the arts and funding for a three-week summer seminar after the freshman year and for at least one additional study-abroad experience.
The Flinn Foundation is a private, nonprofit, grant-making organization.