Students awarded The Matthew Paul Finnigan Memorial Scholarships for the 2021/22 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.
Andre Siu of Hacienda Heights received this year’s 1st place scholarship award of $2,000. Noah DeMent of Riverside was awarded the 2nd place $1,000 scholarship and Ryan Wiedermann of Goleta received the 3rd place award of $750. The Scholarship Selection Committee singled out these three individuals based on their personal determination and demonstrated ability to overcome adversity, overall positive outlook, and commitment to pursuing challenging careers assisting others, especially those on the autism spectrum.
Andre Siu will be graduating from Glen A. Wilson High School in Hacienda Heights in May 2021 and plans to continue his education at California State University, Los Angeles, studying Chemistry and Forensic Science before continuing on to graduate studies. He shows a solid commitment to community service, which has been evident in his volunteer involvement at his local public library, the Hsi Lai Temple, and his school’s Best Buddies program, where he volunteered to support other students with disabilities, as well as participation in his high school band. Although many of these activities have been curtailed during the pandemic, Andre’s positive outlook has not diminished, saying, “I am still pursuing a successful life with the best home and life possible for a bright future.” Andre’s educational objectives include degrees in Chemistry and Forensics, with the long-term goal of becoming a research chemist who will apply his scientific knowledge to developing new methods of analyzing forensic evidence, so that law enforcement and the court system will be better able to scientifically identify those who commit crimes and avoid prosecution of the wrong individuals. Andre has demonstrated a strong work ethic and personal determination to overcome his challenges and make positive contributions to his community, saying “I am outgoing and willing to find a bright future by working hard to succeed. Even though I am disabled, I still challenge myself to do the best that I can.”
Noah DeMent will graduate this spring from Riverside Polytechnic High School and plans to attend California State University, San Bernardino, majoring in Computer Science. His long-term plan is to pursue a professional career developing computer applications or systems that could serve to advance and improve the quality of life for people with autism and other disabilities, cognitive or physical. “My desire is to attempt not only to affect the way that society views those of us with autism, but to improve the lives of others on the spectrum by way of improving avenues of communication and inclusion through my work.“ Noah has already demonstrated this commitment to helping others in the autism and disability community by serving as a Peer Mentor for other students with disabilities at his high school. When reflecting on his experiences learning to overcome obstacles, Noah writes, “Now and then, the challenges related to autism may still present themselves, but ever since my diagnosis I’ve been constantly tailoring and improving upon my strategies to minimize the effects in a positive way, so that I can continue to be the best I can be, while using my quirks to my advantage.”
Ryan Wiedermann will graduate from Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta in June 2021 and continue his education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, pursuing a degree in Economics and Accounting. This hard-working student is graduating from high school after only three years, despite the pandemic limiting his activities and opportunities for community involvement. When asked about how he has overcome the challenges of his autism diagnosis, Ryan shared, “because I have faced so many challenges, it has taught me to persevere no matter how long it takes or how difficult something is for me. Indeed, I have failed at a lot of things and that has taught me to get back up and try again. I’ve learned from my mistakes and made adjustments so that I did better next time.” Reflecting on how he sees his own future contributions to the autism community, Ryan responded, “I also think it’s important for people with autism to be working in the community because I believe there are many misconceptions about autistic people, and if more people see us and work with us, they will gain a greater appreciation of who we are—that we’re not as different as we may seem.”
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.
# # #
If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Beth Burt at 1-800-869-7069 or email at autismsocietycagmail.com.