Featuring Ryan Harrington
This month’s Alumni Spotlight features Ryan Harrington. Ryan has lived in many states across the U.S. during his life, including California, Ohio, Illinois and Michigan. He currently lives in Urbana, Illinois and is attending college at the University of IL at Urbana Champaign where he is pursuing his Master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering. While working on his studies, Ryan is also a Graduate Research Assistant at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Before moving to Illinois, Ryan completed his undergraduate degree in civil engineering at California Polytechnic State University.
Ryan came to Hershey Montessori School in 2001. He said his parents enrolled him at Hershey when the local kindergarten program wanted to hold him back until he had the proper communication and motor skills.
“My parents thought it was unacceptable that the school would hold their autistic child back for these deficiencies when their child could draw roadmaps for every freeway in the greater Cleveland area,” said Ryan. “My parents brought me to Hershey Montessori School because the program allowed students to learn topics by proficiency and rarely by age.”
Ryan stayed at Hershey for ten years, from 2001 through 2011, when his family moved to Chicago.
Below is our interview with Ryan.
How would your friends describe you and how does that compare with how you would describe yourself?
My friends would describe me as someone who could introduce you to any academic topic. I would describe myself as a down-to-earth realist.
What are your favorite places to go and favorite activities to do?
My favorite place to go is Bay View, MI, where I love to sail! I also enjoy hiking. The last mountain I was able to hike was San Gorgonio, which has an elevation of 11,503 feet! I also enjoy solving Rubik’s Cubes.
What has been your happiest moment to date?
My happiest moment was being re-elected as the president of my high school Science Olympiad team. It was a big deal not just because we achieved our highest placement at the state competition that year, but also because I had never known an autistic person who held a significant leadership position.
What is your favorite book and favorite movie?
What is your favorite memory from Hershey?
While I was taking a water quality class at the [Huntsburg Campus] farm, I asked my teacher about whether the treatment pond was filling up with debris over time. In response, she gave me access to a canoe, several feet of string, and a submersible weight to graph the profile of the pond. After comparing the data to that collected ten years ago, we found that the pond hardly changed. The “just go for it” attitude that I gained from that project is something I still carry with me.
What did you like most about Hershey?
I most enjoyed the lesson structure that Hershey Montessori School employed. Hershey helped me to learn by helping me to remember things. I learned by preparing and presenting my work to the whole class.
Who made the biggest impact on you and what was the impact that was made?
The person who made the biggest impact on my life was the principal [program director] at Hershey during my time there. She helped me to keep the fact that I was moving away confidential because I worried that students would treat me differently. Not only was she willing to convince the staff to keep that secret for an entire school year, but she was also willing to help me navigate a successful path onto my next school. The success of that agreement has allowed me to be a secret keeper for topics my friends and family do not want to discuss openly amongst others.
Tell us your favorite quote and your most important life lesson you’d like to share with others.
My favorite quotes is “The best and worst thing you can say to a student is ‘you can do better,'” and my most important life lesson to share is that everyone should live in a different location at least once in their lifetime.
And that is a life lesson that has definitely served you well, Ryan.
It has been great reconnecting with you. We are glad you are doing well. On behalf of your Hershey family, we wish you great, continued success in life and as you complete your Master’s program!