Skagit Valley College honors diversity

Students from Oak Harbor and Coupeville high schools were recently crowned “Champions of Diversity” by Skagit Valley College.

Winning the award were Oak Harbor High School seniors AJ Burgin and Korja Giles, and Coupeville High School senior Ian Curtis.

The award recognized 28 seniors from Island, San Juan and Skagit counties who contributed to the diversity on their campuses in some way, particularly by demonstrating leadership, community service, academic abilities and educational goals.

That’s champion as in “to champion a cause,” not as in “of the world,” but these high school seniors could be called champions in their own right.

Ian Curtis was nominated by his English teacher, Barbara Ballard, who called him “an excellent student on several levels.”

“Ian never takes the easy way through a topic,” she said. “He is all the traits I enjoy in a student wrapped up in one kid.”

In nominating her student for the award Ballard said she knew Skagit Valley College saw diversity as being more complex than just race or ethnicity.

“Ian is the perfect example of that,” she said.

Curtis has big plans for his life; with a 3.97 GPA, he has already been accepted by the University Washington for their prestigious pre-engineering program. He plans on majoring in computer science, with an emphasis on software programming.

“I’m pretty much a computer geek,” he said, a big smile lighting up his face.

He claims to have no free time, between taking college prep classes at school as well as Running Start classes at Skagit Valley College’s Oak Harbor campus. He is also in the National Honor Society and has volunteered with the Learning Partners program at school.

Curtis already knows his way around the massive UW campus in Seattle, having visited several times. Last April he was invited to an “emerging leaders” conference, hosted by the engineering program, and for two summers he attended a university program called, “Do It,” a camp for disabled teens.

Curtis was an active kid until at age 9 he was struck with a rare neurological disorder, dystonia.

“My brain sends too many signals to my muscles,” he said. The resulting nerve confusion renders Ian unable to control his muscles, but it hasn’t slowed him down.

He gets around the high school halls in an electric wheelchair, which he deftly controls with a mouth-activated “sip and puff” device. He used to operate the chair with a joy stick, with sometimes entertaining results.

“One time in the hall I smashed into a garbage can and flattened it,” he said. “So then my friends used to line up garbage cans for me to hit.”

Curtis does find time for his favorite pastime — computer games. His favorites are “Black and White,” and “Worms and Armageddon.”

“It’s kind of an escape from all the schoolwork,” he said.

He is also looking forward to experiencing living in a dorm. His parents, Morley and Rhonda Curtis, are not quite as excited abut losing their only child to college life.

“We might sell this place and get an apartment in Seattle, just in case,” Rhonda said.

Oak Harbor Seniors also honored

AJ Burgin and Korja (pronounced KORea) Giles were nominated for the award by high school counselor Barbara Sheffield, who cited their leadership efforts in starting a Gay-Straight Alliance support club at Oak Harbor High School.

“I thought they deserved an award for starting the club,” she said.

Burgin reports the club is ready to start meeting, with 28 members signed on to participate in increasing awareness and education of gay issues. They are awaiting a final meeting with Vice Principal Dwight Lundstrom to fine tune the club constitution before they can start.

Sheffield said both girls are outstanding students and high achievers, as well as being hardworking and “nice young ladies.”

Burgin said neither of them expected to win the award, especially since the other honorees were lauded for promoting cultural and ethnic diversity. Most of the award winners were members of Skagit Valley’s Latino population.

Burgin has a 3.68 GPA, and is active in the high school drama society, DECA and the Boys and Girls Club.

She and Giles also received $3,650 scholarships for a full year tuition to Evergreen State College. Burgin said she is not planning on attending the alternative state college. She has applied to Duke University, Stanford, UC San Diego, Whitman and Western State University.

Giles has a 3.9 GPA and is a member of the International Thespian Society and the school drama club. She played the lead in the fall production, “Pure as the Driven Snow.”

“I think the award was great because I’m really fond of the whole idea behind the award, for accepting and promoting diversity,” she said.

Giles plans on majoring in theater arts, either at Evergreen or Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at or call 675-6611

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