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Ian Fann
2024 Scholarship


Ian lives in Raleigh and is graduating from Cary Academy.


Ian’s hearing loss journey

I passed the newborn hearing test but developed rapidly progressive hearing loss and received a late diagnosis of profound deafness at age two. After months of fighting the insurance company, I finally had surgery for both ears (six months apart) by the age of two-and-a-half.

Afterward, there were constant reminders that I was different. I was labeled the “bionic man” because of the magnets that hold the implants securely on my scalp. I didn’t play with other kids because I didn’t communicate and often wandered off alone. I traveled long commutes to a specialized preschool for deaf children to receive intensive therapy.

I was mislabeled due to a delay in my speech and communication. The developmental experts recommended a vocational training path. Self-contained classrooms or specialized schools were recommended. My parents were told I could not learn to play sports or music, but I could live successfully in adult homes or with assistance in the future. Knowing I was motivated, my parents decided to go with that and ignore the rest of the experts' opinions.

Thankfully, the miracle of medical technology, supportive parents, and thousands of hours of speech and occupational therapy paid off. I now attend a mainstream high school. Some experts doubted my ability to play music or sports, but I went on to become an all-district clarinetist and co-captain of the junior varsity basketball team.

Overcoming obstacles to do what most kids take for granted has given me a unique understanding and empathy for others. My self-belief is one of my greatest attributes when others doubt me. I was also blessed with a fantastic support system. For those less fortunate, I want to help them access resources that were available to me.

I've learned about families’ financial burdens to pay for hearing devices and therapy sessions. Since the sixth grade I have raised funds for The Children's Cochlear Implant Center at UNC (University of North Carolina) through my participation in the North Carolina Walk4Hearing. Although annual fundraisers draw great publicity, I find the greatest satisfaction in the personal conversations. From speaking to parents with a newly diagnosed child with hearing loss to fist-bumping, tearful eight-year-olds after coaching a winless basketball season, I realized I could pass my gift of self-belief to others and inspire a brighter mindset in each person. Seeing my story inspire hope and put smiles on people’s faces is a gift.

I’ve learned that my disability isn’t a loss but an opportunity for me, my family, my church, and my community to be more accepting of others who are different. Through my story, I hope other kids will learn not to let a label or diagnosis define who they are and can be. 

There are still moments when I’m insecure about my hearing and speech issues. And there were those learning professionals who doubted what I could do based on a label. During those times, I tell myself to recount the lessons I’ve learned, remember where I started and the obstacles I’ve overcome, and be excited about future opportunities to be great and do great things!

Through the NC Walk4Hearing, Ian has raised more than $50,000 to help The Children's Cochlear Implant Center provide remote therapy sessions for deaf children in rural areas.

School accomplishments

Ian is an exceptional student whose potential is described by one of his teachers as “limitless.”

“Ian is a mathematics talent and basketball coaching enthusiast with the gentlest soul you could ever encounter,” says college counselor Brandon Carter. “He’ll be the college student everyone wants to live, study and grow with in their time together.”

“This young man is a champion,” says Precalculus teacher Dr. Hillary Sawyers. “He has done what experts told his parents that he would never be able to do. He works hard at everything. For example, in 2021, he was named first chair clarinet at NCAIS (North Carolina Association of Independent Schools); he had to push himself to garner that recognition. In addition, he is the founder and president of the Cary Academy Sports Analytics Club, where he teaches the importance of data-driven decisions. Team coaches have benefited from Ian's data analysis and reports.”

Future plans

Ian plans to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Pursuing a major in statistics and data science is, for me, a strategic choice. It's about equipping myself with the tools to analyze, interpret and leverage data to advocate for policy changes, resource allocation, and awareness that can significantly improve the lives of individuals with disabilities. Data has the power to tell compelling stories, to unveil the hidden struggles of marginalized communities, and to drive evidence-based solutions that can help my community.

My aim is to use my expertise in data science to conduct research that sheds light on the challenges faced by the deaf and hard of hearing community, among others. By quantifying the impact of early intervention, accessible education, and community support, I can provide concrete evidence that empowers policymakers, educators and advocates to make informed decisions that uplift those in need.

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