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Thu, 20 Jun 2024 14:31:26 -0500
2024-05-12 Print


Students awarded The Matthew Paul Finnigan Memorial Scholarships for the 2024/25 School Year


Today, the Autism Society Inland Empire, the Finnigan family, and the Community Foundation for Monterey County are pleased to announce the recipients of the Achievement Scholarship awards through the National Achievement Scholarship Program.

Zoe Esparza of Whittier has been awarded the 1st place scholarship of $2,000. Tyler Shans of Claremont received the 2nd place scholarship of $1,000, and William Higgins of Bakersfield was awarded the 3rd place scholarship of $750. The Scholarship Selection Committee chose these individuals based on their academic excellence, personal determination, ability to overcome challenges, and dedication to pursuing careers in assisting others, particularly those on the autism spectrum.

Zoe Esparza, a graduating student from California High School in Whittier, plans to double major in Political Science and Philosophy with a minor in Literature at the University of California, Riverside. She has aspirations to pursue a master's degree and attend law school to become a civil rights attorney advocating for individuals with invisible disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders. Zoe aims to promote understanding and inclusion for all, working alongside law enforcement agencies and public schools. When asked about her future goals, Zoe responded, “We need to normalize children with disabilities in general education classes. We need to stop segregating children with disabilities to trailers in the back of a school campus. Prejudice and ableism against children and adults with disabilities has to stop.”

Tyler Shans, soon-to-be graduate of Claremont High School, will begin his academic journey as a Psychology major at Citrus Community College before transferring to Cal Poly Pomona. Tyler wishes to become a mental health therapist and is already planning to earn the multiple degrees necessary to pursue his career. “I have seen firsthand that the autism community could use more help with mental health services,” Tyler states. “And because I have autism, I am more aware of the specific struggles that they go through and as a result, I am better able to help.”

William Higgins, who graduates this month from Independence High School in Bakersfield, will major in Mathematics at California State University, Bakersfield with the goal of becoming a Math teacher. William aims to inspire his future students to achieve their goals despite any challenges they may face.

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 Inland Empire 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 1-951-220-6922 or email

Contact Info
Sandra Dixon shove
EPIC Advocacy and Consulting
81 David Love Place
Suite 100
Santa Barbara, CA 93117

Phone: 1-951-220-6922