Oliver Chinn, 17

From: Missoula

Graduated: Sentinel High School

College: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Math teacher Gary Little has known Oliver Chinn since he was in seventh grade. In that time, he said, the Sentinel High School valedictorian “has not shied away from a challenge.”

At Sentinel, Chinn has taken 13 advanced placement courses and maintained a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Outside the classroom, his accomplishments range from principal cellist at the Missoula Youth Symphony, to first place in the Montana BrainBee neuroscience competition, to researching Yellowstone National Park’s wildlife with Ecology Project International. He’s shared his many talents with the community, volunteering at the SpectrUM Science Discovery Museum, the Missoula Food Bank and elsewhere.

“I have been teaching for 36 years and Oliver would be in the top 25 or so of students I have had,” Little wrote.

Enthusiasm was key in each of his activities, Chinn said. “I was able to enjoy something with each one and I stuck with it all through high school.” He added that “finding a group of people in each activity that you enjoy being with and really enjoy spending time with” is crucial.

During his first two years with the school’s speech and debate team, for instance, “it started out really tough. It was a steep learning curve.” Chinn thought about quitting, but “found some people with speech and debate that helped me keep with it.” He eventually landed a role as team captain and won several accolades.

Chinn is originally from California but moved to Missoula with his parents, Wenjun Chinn and Sheng Han, in kindergarten. He plans to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall. “Right now, I’m looking into (studying) brain and cognitive sciences and biomedical engineering, but that’s not certain.”

But whatever he picks, Chinn said Sentinel High School’s teachers gave him a solid foundation for success. “They just help create a really rich learning environment, and I always looked forward to going to my classes.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of the great teachers I’ve had at Sentinel.”

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