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 undergraduate


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 Year Award.

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 well.

"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 at NAU."