Creating a Fair Start
Rhian Evans Allvin does what she sets out to do, and
children and families in Arizona are better off as a result. As the chief
executive officer of First Things First, a nationally-acclaimed program in
Arizona that funds childhood development and health initiatives, Evans Allvin
makes a difference every day to create positive outcomes for children. She
attributes her achievements and her rewarding career, in large part, to her
experience at Northern Arizona University.
"I look back to getting my undergraduate degree and
know it was an extraordinary time," she says. "It gave me the
foundation for the life skills that I have needed and the relationships that
have set me on this career path."
Evans Allvin played a crucial role to ensure that First
Things First got off the ground. Originally conceived as a citizen initiative
to improve early childhood educational outcomes, First Things First was created
in 2006—following years of advocacy work by Evans Allvin and others—with the
goal that every Arizona child would enter kindergarten with the necessary tools
for success. Now, Evans Allvin manages a $150 million budget, 125 employees,
and 31 Regional Partnership Councils. And, she says, Arizona's youngest
children have benefitted tremendously from her organization's efforts.
"We don't just hope it all works out okay,"
Evans Allvin says. "We make ourselves accountable to taxpayers and voters.
Because of First Things First, 20 percent of licensed childcare is voluntarily
enrolled in a quality improvement and rating system, and more than 700 college
students receive scholarships to study early childhood development. Across
Arizona young children and their families have access to speech pathology,
physical therapy, dental screenings, and fluoride treatments."
Engaged as an
Years of dedication to the community and numerous awards
and appointments prepared Evans Allvin
for this leadership position. Her achievement record stretches back to
her freshman year at the university, when she won the first of three
consecutive outstanding undergraduate student awards. Evans Allvin was also
active with the Arizona Students Association, and was selected as a student
regent for the Arizona Board of Regents.
"This involvement literally changed the focus of my
academic career," she says. "This is where I became interested in
public policy and working in the public sector."
As she pursued her interest in public service, Evans
Allvin worked for a number of organizations, including the Children's Action
Alliance and the Arizona Community Foundation. Additionally, she began her own
consulting firm specializing in public and fiscal policy and advocacy services,
and she has served on several political campaigns. Following the establishment
of First Things First, then-Governor Janet Napolitano appointed Evans Allvin to
the nine-member implementation board. Her alma mater recognized her work in
2006, and awarded her the Alumni Association's Jeff Ferris Volunteer of the
Now heading up one of the most promising early childhood
programs in the country, Evans Allvin feels that the skills she acquired as an
undergraduate—and subsequently honed for nearly two decades—have served her
"At First Things First, we are focused on making
sure all children get a fair start. Doing so demands strong leadership and
management skills," she says. "Managing people is managing people:
regardless of what type of an organization one works for, good management cuts
across fields. I rely every day on the skills that I gained in my degree program