ARLINGTON — A lot will change when Lakewood High School’s Ryan Whitehead goes to college next year, but one thing will stay the same: He’ll still be a Cougar. The 17-year-old senior is taking his talents to Washington State University, which shares a mascot with Lakewood. And thanks to the Running Start program, he will leave Arlington with an associate’s degree and his high school diploma.
Question: Why did you decide to do Running Start?
Answer: In sixth grade I took algebra, so I was getting through things ahead of schedule. In eighth grade I took junior history and physics. I really wouldn’t have had much to take here in junior and senior years.
Q: Do you just go to Everett Community College for class and come back, or do you have friends there and hang out on the campus?
A: Not much. I developed some academic relationships because I took a three-quarter physics series, which was the same people three quarters in a row. You get to know those people. Beyond that, not really.
Q: Did your parents go to Washington State?
A: My dad went there.
Q: Is that one reason you wanted to apply there?
A: Yeah, and it’s full tuition because I’m a National Merit Scholar. The National Merit Scholar means $2,500 from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, but then schools will say, ‘Oh, you’re a National Merit Scholar — we’ll give you this.’ Wazzu gives full tuition for any semifinalists.
Q: What are you going to be studying there?
A: Engineering. I’m not sure which kind yet.
Q: Why engineering?
A: I like physics and math, and that’s what engineering uses. In fifth grade I read a book, it was called “Flying Buttresses, Entropy, and O-Rings.” I don’t remember what the book was about, I just remember I liked it. The things they talked about doing sounded interesting.
Q: Other than academics, you’re into track.
A: I do hurdles.
Q: Why hurdles?
A: I did cross country in seventh grade, because my dad encouraged me to. Then I figured I might as well do track, but I didn’t want to do distance because I felt like I would just be doing the same thing over again. I was pretty good at them in seventh grade so I stuck with it.
Q: Hurdles are a sprint, right? You have to get over how many?
A: Ten. Ten hurdles in 110 meters.
Q: Are you an only child?
A: No, I have a sister who also does cross country, track, band and piano.
Q: Why did both of you end up playing piano?
A: We did an addition to our house at one point and had space to have a piano. My grandparents had a little spinet, which is a short upright piano. They gave it to us.
Q: Do you ever feel overwhelmed by your busy schedule?
A: A little bit. I’ve kind of always had it. I’m used to it.
Q: Do you feel like you seek out those things, or are you encouraged by your parents?
A: I think both. I like doing things.
Q: What do your parents do?
A: They’re both math teachers. My dad is at Cavelero in Lake Stevens and my mom is at Haller Middle School in Arlington.
Q: I heard you’re a math whiz. Is it because you’ve been raised with it?
A: Probably. I’ve always done math. One thing I remember is they had a bowl of olives and they said, “There are 12 olives. How many do we each get?” When I was very little, that was difficult. Well, not difficult, but it required thought.
If I were to come to them with questions, it wouldn’t be, “This is the answer.” It would be, “Let’s think about this.” Eventually I would come to the answer through their guidance. It would be me finding the answer, not getting the answer.
Q: Was there a lot of pressure from them?
A: No. They expected me to do my best, but whatever my best was was fine with them.
Quinn Russell Brown: 425-903-6341; email@example.com.