Senior Projects Offer Solutions for Sustainability Challenges

SP sustainability Sustainability and stewardship of Earth’s resources are woven into the daily experiences of Ross School students. The school’s facilities make use of the latest renewable energy sources, and the Ross curriculum highlights a multitude of sustainability topics throughout the grade levels, often leading to whole-school discussions about ecology, culture, economics, politics, and our shared duty to preserve and maintain the environment and protect those most vulnerable to destructive environmental change. Using their Senior Project as a platform, some members of the Class of 2017 have drawn on what they’ve learned in these areas to propose innovative solutions to some of society’s toughest problems.

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After visiting locations like Zimbabwe and South America, Ross School Tennis Academy student Audrix Arce used his Senior Project to develop a potential solution to one of the most significant problems globally affecting people’s quality of life: access to clean water. Estimates show that nearly 2 billion people around the world currently drink water from nonpotable sources, and by 2025, that number is expected to grow to half the world’s population. This lack of clean water results in chronic infection and fatal illnesses.

To combat the issue, Audrix developed an inexpensive water filter capable of rendering clean water using solar power. “There are lots of families around the world who live without electricity and running water, and I wanted to give them hope,” Audrix said. “I developed this filter so that they could create water just using what they have.”

Audrix said that because we live in an industrialized country, it can be easy to forget that clean, running water is not a guarantee around the world. “Flushing a toilet sends two gallons of water down the drain, but in some places, a woman has to walk for miles just to get the same amount for her family.” Audrix intends to study engineering in college, with the hope of creating additional solutions to public health issues.

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Environmental enthusiast Jonas Linnman-Feuerring drew from both the Visual Arts and Science domains to produce a model of a sustainable town inspired by his hometown, Sag Harbor. Incorporating the use of renewable energy from wind turbines, solar power, and geothermal heating, he crafted a system that would offset the amount of energy Sag Harbor currently uses.

At the center of Jonas’s model is a replica of Sag Harbor’s commercial district, including its iconic theater, which was destroyed by fire in December. Jonas said that he felt a duty to be as exact as possible in crafting the theater in order to honor its role in his experience growing up in Sag Harbor. He also designed two homes for his model: one reflecting what modifications could be used to retrofit an existing home, and one representing options accessible to those engaged in new construction.

Jonas, who plans to study environmental engineering in the fall, hopes to share his project with Sag Harbor’s town government.

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Aspiring conservationalist Ella Gatfield used her Senior Project to address a threat to the nation’s entire agricultural system: the diminishing population of bees. In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added seven species of bee to the list of endangered species. More than 40 percent of the world’s pollinators are facing extinction, due in part to climate change, insecticides, and invasive parasites. Without intervention, the decline of pollinators is likely to have a dramatic negative effect on the world’s food supply.

Ella built an observational, top-bar beehive for her project, a small act she hopes will inspire significant change. She believes that the success of bee conservation initiatives will rely upon the action of current and future generations, so she has donated her beehive to Ross Lower School so that the beehive can be used to teach students the critical role of pollinators in our agricultural system—a curricular thread for students in grade 1. Additionally, once Ella introduces honeybees to the hive in April, she hopes they will help to sustain the Lower School’s organic farm.

Prior to her project, Ella had never even used a screwdriver, but with the help of her Senior Project mentor Greg Drossel, she designed and built the structure to be as eco-friendly and historically accurate as possible. The pair used as much reclaimed lumber as possible, working with discarded palettes and even tongue-and-groove oak flooring from a home renovation project. They supplemented these materials with fresh oak and adorned the structure with vintage brass hardware. The project also introduced Ella to a community of local beekeepers who have supported her since she began her project over the summer.

As she prepares to leave for college in the fall, Ella looks forward to seeing what the bees will reap in her absence. “I’ll have something to look forward to every time I come back home,” Ella said. “We have beautiful land out here. It’s our responsibility not to abuse it.”