Kyle Corfman, who grew up in Poolesville, Maryland, in Montgomery County, experienced the sudden loss of both parents during his youth—his mother in a car crash and his father by suicide. His father, whom he described as “the nicest person you’d ever want to meet,” suffered from severe depression and consequent alcoholism, and his parents divorced when he was six. Kyle visited his father regularly. “He was always great with me and didn’t let me see what he was going through.” When he was ten, he moved with his mother to Lincoln, Nebraska. He spent summers with his father, who had become a woman.

“He looked significantly different, and I remember being a little confused. But he was still the same person. He never changed in my mind, even though officially he was Susan.” His father’s new husband had a daughter, Megan, close to Kyle’s age. They became friends and remain so to this day. Because Kyle and his father didn’t live in the same area, his school friends had no contact with his father, which made the transition easier.

When Kyle was 13, his mother died in a car crash on her way to a store to buy him a Boy Scout belt. His mother’s large family made it clear to him that it wasn’t his fault. He moved back to Maryland and lived with an aunt and uncle, still making regular visits to “Aunt Susan” in West Virginia. His father shot and killed himself when Kyle was 15, which he said he took very hard. Around the same time, he developed Crohn’s Disease but he never gave up.

Kyle did well in high school, especially in math. “I had an interesting math teacher my senior year. The school didn’t offer calculus 3, and he taught it to 13 of us during an off period.” Kyle found that he especially likes hands-on, applied mathematics. “I think this came from my Dad. He was an avid carpenter. I have a dresser and desk he built.”

Kyle graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and a grade point average of 3.5. He became involved with Engineers Without Borders, volunteers who do engineering projects around the world.

Kyle still manages fundraisers for the group. He is now pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, also at the University of Maryland, and will graduate in 2014. He hopes to find work in renewable energy.

Winning the Beat the Odds Award in 2007 “really helped” him, he said. “The money obviously helped but what really affected me was hearing everybody else’s story, how incredible the other kids were. It drove me to want to do better things with my life.”