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Passion, activism pay off for SHS senior
Erin Irby earns $300K scholarship
W Irby Erin Mckenzie HG
Erin Irby
     Statesboro High senior Erin Irby loves to take pictures and cares deeply about the environment. Irby found out recently that her talent and passion helped earn her a scholarship to Ithaca College in upstate New York. And it’s not just any scholarship.
     In fact, Irby’s scholarship is so prestigious that only 400 high school seniors were even invited to apply and she is one of only 14 Parks Scholarship winners in the nation. The value of her award: between $250,000 and $300,000.
     The scholarship includes all four years of tuition, room and board, school and an allowance. It provides for the purchase of school supplies, including a new McIntosh computer. It includes two all-expense paid summer’s internships, one of which will be in London, and the other one in a place of her choosing virtually anywhere in the world.
     Ithaca is considered one of the best small liberal arts colleges in the country and U.S. News and World Report recently ranked it as one of the 10 best colleges that offer Masters Degrees schools in the Northeast.
Irby’s chosen field of study: photojournalism.
     “In journalism, you find a story and develop a verbal picture of it,” Irby said. “With photographs, you tell a visual story. I really want to focus on photo-essays, where you use both media to keep the written word and still image alive.”
     Irby is no stranger to academic success. She won the Optimist Club’s Oratorical Contest in 5th grade; won the Langston Chapel Director’s Award in music in 8th grade; scored all ‘5’s on her Advanced Placement finals, and then scored one of the highest grades ever recorded in Georgia’s American History end-of-course test.
     However, it was her environmental activism and involvement in green activities that brought her to the attention of the Park Foundation, officials said. Irby said her entire family is passionate about caring for the environment, where recycling is always top of mind. For her first solo effort at recycling at Statesboro High, she chose balloons.
     To be precise, she was concerned Statesboro’s release of balloons at every football game could damage the environment. School counselor Brian Thomas believes that “Erin was not afraid to butt the system or ruffle some feathers, but she didn’t do it as a means of drawing attention to herself.”
     She started a petition to stop the release and then some responded with a petition of their own to keep the balloons. In the end it was decided no more balloons would be released. Irby then formed the student group SCREAM – Students Committed to Recycling Environmental Activism in Moderation.
     In addition to participating in both the “Great American Cleanup” and the “Rivers Alive” clean up of the Ogeechee River, SCREAM runs a recycling program that has bins throughout the high school. Her citizenship activities earned her the Hugh O’Brien Youth Ambassadorship from SHS, in which capacity she attended the national Ambassadorship World Leadership Congress.
      Kathy Tucker, Irby’s teacher in the at Langston Chapel Middle School, said “Erin was always very creative, an excellent problem solver, a wonderful team leader, and extremely dependable and reliable. In essence, she was everything you could possibly hope for in a student.”
      Irby’s parents, Bill Irby, professor of Entomology at GSU, and Leslie Sprando, school psychologist in the Effingham Public School system, recognize the importance of her accomplishments.
     “Erin is a very well-grounded young lady, and has always made the right choices,” Bill Irby said.
     “I am so very proud of her,” said her mother.
     Irby loves photography and enjoys watching people react to her images.
     “Many of my subjects surprise people at first when they see my photographs,” she said. “I try to find beauty and wonder in things that most people might not. Over the past couple of years, I have begun composing my photographs in such a way that everybody can see just how beautiful these things really are. I would like to believe I’ve had some success.”
     Irby works on both the school newspaper and yearbook. She undertook a photo-essay project detailing the new school construction, which was published in the school’s newspaper. She is editor of the 2008-09 school yearbook, “The Criterion.”
     As an editor, Irby said: “I’ve tried to use a more modern style, with a funkier layout. In addition, I tried to include comparisons of the old and new schools throughout the yearbook.”
     Her father and mother are confident Irby will do well at Ithaca.
     “When I left for college, I never came home until I was done, so I’m O.K. with it,” Bill Irby.
     Much more emotional about her daughter’s pending departure, Sprando said: “I enjoy her company tremendously, and will miss her terribly.”

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