Ever since he was a child, Feifan (Lucky) Lu ’18 has felt a need to communicate, keeping journals and improvising songs to express his innermost feelings. For his Senior Project, Lucky wrote and composed his first full-length song, “When We Were Young,” a quiet but uplifting track meant to encourage his peers about the uncertainty and excitement of their coming years.Read More
Each year, Ross School is thrilled to present Senior Projects to the community, Over the course of three nights this week, the Class of 2018 shared the results of all their research, creativity, and hard work.Read More
What if saving the world was a simple as changing your diet? Small dietary changes can yield global results, and the solution Shiya (Dawn) Zhao ’18 proposes in her Senior Project is simple: eat bugs. To back up that proposal, she will debut her line of homemade baked goods, made with crickets, at Senior Project Exhibition Night.Read More
An interesting thing happened to Ross School senior August (Augie) Schultz during a recent trip to the dentist. As he sat in the reception area, waiting for his turn to be seen, he looked up from his cell phone to realize that every other guest in the room—regardless of age—was also glued to a mobile device. The sight was jarring to him. “Everyone was on a phone: toddlers, moms, dads, and grandparents. It was strange because using technology as much as we do is regular, but it’s not normal,” Augie said.Read More
Ross School senior Melissa Ibrahim is bringing her lifelong love of games to her Senior Project as she creates a way for people of all ages to learn the universal language: music. Inspired by her mother, a curriculum designer in Brazil who has always advocated for innovative teaching methods, Melissa initially planned to design a game-based educational curriculum. Instead, her project has evolved into one that unifies her two greatest passions, games and music. Melissa is designing five levels of a video game to teach the fundamentals of music theory.Read More
The lobby of the Senior Building was abuzz with excitement on Thursday evening as students, faculty, and community members opened their wallets for the chance to win prizes while simultaneously making a positive impact on a far-away community that is nevertheless near to the heart of a friend.Read More
Ross School students are taught with the goal of encouraging them to become global citizens of tomorrow as they develop leadership, innovative thinking, and empathic abilities necessary to effectively shape the world for future generations. This year, three Ross School seniors have focused their Senior Projects on the goal of empowering others through education.
Aspiring cardiac surgeon Anna Popova ’17 combined learning from the domains of Science and Visual Arts to craft a functional 3D model of the heart. Anna’s fascination with this vital organ began at a young age, and although she enjoyed researching the heart for projects throughout her school career, Anna recognized that a functioning 3D model of the heart was extremely difficult to find. To fill this need, Anna built a model that is scaled to three times the size of a human heart and can replicate its primary functions. “Many people only learn about how their heart works when they face a malfunction,” Anna said. “I believe that education might prevent that. The heart is more than a life-supporting organ, and its function must be known.”
Drawing on a life-changing experience in third grade at Ross Lower School, in which the class fostered puppies and made curricular connections to their studies of evolution, Rory Gallaher ’17 set out to create similar lessons that integrate the Lower School’s campus farm into the curriculum. With the guidance of her Senior Project mentor (and former third grade teacher) Junellen Tiska, Rory designed experiences to support Team K’s origins of life studies and grade four’s unit about the domestication of animals. Her interactive lessons included taking a tour of the farm and identifying the resources produced by each. “Rory’s enthusiasm and excitement for all that she is doing is contagious,” Junellen said. “This project is a great accomplishment for her, and it opens the door for us as a school to be able to work with our students and our alumni as active participants in contributing to the curriculum.”
Timur Yuldashev ’17 prepared a book explaining the principles of political communication and its impact on public opinion, a topic that gained popularity during 2016’s election cycle. Among the topics covered in Timur’s book are crafting and manipulating a political image, the use of the media in determining public perception, and the role of social media in campaign communications. According to Timur’s mentor, political science and journalism teacher Kevin Snyder, one of the most rewarding parts of assisting Timur was seeing his passion for the topic develop. “Through this project, Timur has decided to study political science. . . . It’s inspiring to me that Ross supports its students by giving them the opportunity to develop their interests in this way.”
We are proud of the contributions these students made this year on spreading Ross’s mission of furthering education and inspiring lifelong learning!
Community service and engagement play a significant role in the Ross School philosophy. The motto “Know Thyself in Order to Serve” reflects the school’s commitment to preparing students for meaningful lives and leadership in the global community. Several members of the Class of 2017 used their Senior Projects as a means to raise awareness and support for societal issues like homelessness, endangered species, and physical disability.
During his 2016 Field Academy trip to Namibia, Aaron Kresberg ’17 fell in love with the country, returning over the summer to spend three weeks volunteering with the Rare and Endangered Species Trust. Combining the domains of Media Studies and Technology and Science, Aaron used his Senior Project to raise awareness and money for the organization’s mission, which is to protect, research, and provide education about the “Forgotten Five plus One”: the Cape griffon vulture, the dwarf python, the African wild/painted dog, the Cape/ground pangolin, the Damara dikdik, and the spotted rubber frog. He worked with local businesses in his hometown, Sag Harbor, to try and raise $5,000 for the Trust.
Aaron convinced Sag Harbor’s Provisions Natural Foods to make the trust a beneficiary of their donation program, in which the company donates $0.20 to a nonprofit each month on behalf of customers who supply reusable bags for their purchases; this agreement yielded $1,400 to benefit the foundation’s work. He also organized a social media–driven crowdfunding campaign to spread awareness of the organization’s mission, which resulted in additional contributions totaling $1,500. He hopes to meet his goal by raising the remainder through selling photos he took in Namibia, which are on exhibition in Sag Harbor’s Sara Nightingale Gallery through the end of February.
Evi Kaasik-Saunders ’17 used her Senior Project to provide solutions for two seemingly disparate issues: homelessness and waste pollution. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, more than a half-million Americans are homeless on any given night in the United States. Meanwhile, Americans produce an estimated 4.4 pounds of waste daily. Although about 75 percent of our waste is recyclable, the vast majority of it will end up in landfills. Using integrated systems thinking, Evi sought to create an environmentally friendly solution that would provide homeless people with the items they need to remain safe and relatively comfortable.
Working within the domains of Cultural History, World Languages and Literature: English, and Mathematics, Evi founded SustainaBox, an organization that assembles sustainably produced care packages for those taking refuge in homeless shelters. Every kit contains a series of donated essentials: a blanket, travel-sized toiletries and personal hygiene products, packaged snacks, gloves, socks, and a portable rain poncho. “We aspire to provide relief to those in need while leaving a minimal carbon footprint on the environment,” Evi wrote.
For her Senior Project, Isabelle Rowe ’17 paired the Science and Wellness domains to raise and train a puppy that will serve as a service animal on behalf of the Guide Dog Foundation. Isabelle’s inspiration for raising a puppy was her Modernity project, in which she researched Ivan Pavlov and animal conditioning. After months of planning and obtaining permission from both the foundation and Ross School administration, Isabelle was assigned Tucci, a three-month-old golden retriever puppy.
Following her mastery of potty training and basic commands, Tucci and Isabelle began specialized training courses and advanced socialization in environments as diverse as classrooms, beaches, and movie theaters. “As she gets older, more will be expected of her,” Isabelle said. “I bring her to class with me, so that she can learn to be obedient, quiet, and comfortable.”
Tucci will remain with Isabelle until she reaches 12–14 months old, at which point she will be returned to the Guide Dog Foundation for her permanent assignment.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
https://vimeo.com/200715499 Ross School’s Class of 2017 presented their Senior Projects to the public over three nights the week of January 20.
Senior Projects represent the culmination of a student’s learning experience at Ross School, and through their execution, students embody their passions in a process and product that integrates such Ross School principles as multiple intelligences, cultural and historical context, personal reflection, application of technology, and pursuit of excellence. At the conclusion of the Senior Project, students have deeper insight into themselves as learners and producers.
Senior Projects Performance Night, the first of three events, included a cultural study of belly dance from Brazilian student Gabriela do Nascimento. Gabriela was an avid ballet dancer until an injury made it impossible for her to continue down that path. Practicing belly dance, she said, brought her back to life after such a devastating loss. Her project, which included a dance she choreographed, an oral presentation, and journal entries, explored the history of belly dance and its spread across the globe.
Next, Sam Grossman played music for the crowd using the tube-powered guitar amp he built as part of his project. In striving to build a unique-looking and -sounding piece, Sam built the enclosure of his amp from the reclaimed floorboards of a 19th century barn and hand-wired its circuit board.
During Exhibition Night, student presentations were on display throughout the Senior Thesis Building and in the Ross Gallery.
Environmental enthusiast Jonas Linnman-Feuerring drew from both the Visual Arts and Science domains to produce a model of a sustainable town inspired by Sag Harbor. By incorporating the use of renewable energy from wind turbines, solar power, and geothermal heating, he was able to craft a system that would offset the amount of energy Sag Harbor currently uses. In addition to reproducing a section of the town’s commercial district, Jonas designed two homes: one representing the ways that existing homes could be retrofitted to be more environmentally friendly and the other—his own custom design—showing the optimal choices to build a home that has no carbon footprint. Jonas is hoping to share his project with the Sag Harbor Board of Trustees to find out whether the town would be interested in pursuing any of his suggestions.
“Even though it may be expensive up front, it’s worth it to invest in the future,” Jonas said. “Sag Harbor could be underwater in a century if we don’t change our ways.”
In another project focused on sustainability, Hannah Dayton worked with Innovation Lab @Ross mentor Paul Gansky to found an environmentally friendly mobile food business selling Brazilian açai bowls for her Senior Project, combining principles from the Mathematics and Media Studies and Technology domains. Throughout the course of the project, she participated in local events like the Hampton Classic, Harborfest, and Septemberfest.
On Film Night, viewers gathered in the Senior Building Lecture Hall to enjoy student-made films, which included a range of styles like documentary, animation, and horror. In one film, Alex Lawson combined his two passions, surfing and filmmaking, to craft a
a documentary about people who surf on Long Island during winter—a topic that has fascinated him since he began practicing the sport.
For her film, Sherry Gao combined the Visual Arts, Cultural History, and Media Studies and Technology domains to lend a unique perspective into the mind of a character living with dissociative identity disorder (DID). Sherry’s character was modeled after Sybil Dorsett, the main character of the 1976 movie starring Sally Field. Sherry’s hope is that her illustration of life with alternate identities ultimately raises awareness of the condition and compassion for those living with it.
“Senior Projects are one of students’ most valuable experiences at Ross,” said Dale Scott, dean of Senior Projects. “They are given complete freedom to explore their passions and test the boundaries of their classroom learning, and every year they rise to the challenge in ways we could not anticipate.”
Senior Projects will be on display at Ross Upper School through Monday, February 27.
More about students’ work toward mastering this integral component of a Ross education can be found in past blogs about Ashley Ramos-Cajas, Rory Gallaher, Jared Goldsmith, Seamus McCarthy, Amanda Mintz, and Isabelle Rowe. Look for even more seniors to be featured in the blog through the end of the trimester.
Avid sailor Jared Goldsmith ’17 is using his Senior Project as a way to share his passion and educate his peers about this ancient and environmentally friendly pastime. In a tent beside the school’s metal shop at the far end of campus, Jared is in the process of constructing a Passagemaker classic sailing dinghy.
“I have always wanted my own sailboat,” Jared said. “Sailing is fun, and also eco-friendly compared to powering bigger yachts and motorboats.”
Jared began sailing when he moved to Sag Harbor as a seven-year-old. He attended a sailing camp and eventually accepted a job at the Sag Harbor Yacht Club, where he teaches sailing in the summer. Working at the yacht club has helped to prepare Jared for his Senior Project by teaching him to work with new materials like fiberglass and to repair damaged boats.
Jared's Passagemaker is being built of Okoume marine plywood stitched together with copper wire, trimmed in mahogany, and reinforced with fiberglass. Because there are no special molds or tools needed, as with glued hull shapes, this 90-pound boat is an ideal boat for first-time builders like him.
Still, Jared’s project has not been without challenge. This fall, he fractured his leg while playing basketball, which made maneuvering around his already tight workspace even more difficult. Additionally, winter weather has proven to be an obstacle. During a recent snowstorm, Jared had to travel to school three times to remove snow accumulating on the roof of the tent. The cold weather is also making it difficult for the fiberglass epoxy to set.
With Senior Project celebration nights next week, Jared expects to complete his project in time for Exhibition Night next Thursday.
The Ross School’s class of 2017 will be presenting their Senior Projects to the public from January 18–20. For a full schedule of events, please visit ross.org/seniorprojects. These events are free and open to the public.
When Rory Gallaher ’17 was in third grade at Ross, her class fostered puppies from two days old to four weeks old as part of their unit on evolution. The project exemplified Ross’s commitment to integrated learning: in the Math domain, students charted the puppies’ growth over time, while in Science and Cultural History, they researched the evolution of the dogs and learned about puppies’ development in their first few weeks of life. The experience left a profound impact on Rory, and is one of her fondest curricular memories from her Lower School experience.
For her Senior Project, Rory Gallaher is drawing on campus resources to recreate the experience for current and future students. Since her time there, the Lower School campus has expanded to include resources like a working farm, and Rory recognized a missed opportunity to more fully integrate these resources into the curriculum. In response, she has designed learning experiences to support Team K’s studies of origin of life stories and grade four’s unit about animal domestication.
Lower School Director of Academics and Professional Development Junellen Tiska serves as Rory’s Senior Project mentor—a role she’s uniquely suited for, since she was also Rory’s third grade teacher and the inspiration behind her work.
“When Rory approached me to be her mentor, she said that her experience in grade three was so memorable that she wanted to create similar opportunities for younger students using the farm animals,” said Junellen. “It’s a privilege to have been asked, and being her mentor has been incredible.”
With Junellen’s guidance, Rory’s lesson development process has closely followed that which is used in crafting the Ross Learning System. “I designed a lot of the Lower School curriculum, so I was able to share with Rory the templates that we use and guide her through the process,” Junellen said. “She knew enough about how we work and the lessons and what we do to see it in a bigger scope and come up with ideas herself.” To further familiarize herself with the Lower School’s farm animals, Rory spent last summer volunteering on the Lower School campus while also working as a camp counselor for Summer Camp @Ross.
This fall, Rory practiced implementing her learning experiences with Team K and grade four students. She led them on a tour of the farm, taught them which animals produce the resources we use, and guided them through interactive activities.
“Teaching can be harder than we think sometimes,” Rory said, stating that the project has taught her greater appreciation for her instructors. “Things hardly ever go as you planned, so you need to be very creative.”
“Rory’s enthusiasm and excitement for all that she is doing is contagious,” Junellen said. “This project leaves a great mark for her, as well as opens the door for us as a school to be able to work with our students and our alumni as active participants in contributing to the curriculum.”
Not many high school students would volunteer to spend their summer in the halls of a hospital, but for the past three years, Ashley Ramos ’16 has done just that, soaking up every chance she can find to prepare for her future career as a cardiologist.
Ashley’s interest in cardiology began during her freshman year of high school, and every summer since she has attended research programs from leading institutions like Columbia University, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Weill Medical College of Cornell University. Last summer, she participated in the Weill Cornell Youth Scholars Program, joining current medical students for lectures in anatomy and physiology, working in cadaver labs, and engaging in problem-based learning (PBL). One of Ashley’s favorite experiences was learning to apply the week’s lessons to actual organs, working hands-on with a human brain, a kidney, a liver, small and large intestines, and a heart over the course of the program.
Her summer work was the inspiration for Ashley’s Senior Project, for which she will be interviewing two male patients who successfully survived open-heart surgery and using their stories to craft PBL case studies in multimedia form. These case studies will be designed like those used by students in their first and second years of medical school.
Ashley is motivated by how her Senior Project fits in with her professional goals. “This project not only covers one of my biggest interests, but it is also helping me to build the critical thinking and patient interviewing skills necessary to succeed in medical school and my career,” she said.
“I think much of what makes Ashley an outstanding prospect for entering the medical field is her compassion and kindness,” said Brett Smith, Ashley’s academic advisor. “These qualities led Ashley to examine the experience of being a patient going through open heart surgery rather than merely focus on the science or procedure.”
“I had to conduct a lot of research to understand my patients’ conditions and to determine how to properly interview them about their medical history,” Ashley added, “but it has all been really insightful and a blast. Because of this project, I have a clear idea of what it takes to succeed in medical school, and I am excited.”
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, roughly 20 to 30 percent of women experience sexual violence in their lifetime. Nearly two-thirds of assaults go unreported, due in part to the stigma surrounding rape. In light of these unnerving statistics, Ross School senior Amanda Mintz has devoted her Senior Project to raising awareness about sexual assault through education.
Amanda founded In My Shoes, a nonprofit organization that provides education and resources to help people recognize and report assault, as well as aid survivors in healing from their trauma. The idea was born from her own sexual assault at the age of 15.
“Coming out with the part of my life that I’ve kept hidden for so long was difficult,” Amanda said. “I was very scared of the backlash I might receive, but our community has been so welcoming and loving. The positive feedback I’ve gotten has made it empowering for me; it’s made the process of healing that much more meaningful.”
Volunteering at The Retreat, an East Hampton–based organization that provides support for victims of domestic violence, was helpful in her recovery. Being embedded in a community of survivors whose self-empowerment and courage strengthened Amanda’s desire to start In My Shoes.
“It’s been inspiring to see Amanda want to bring awareness to a topic that has historically been glossed over, if not ignored all together,” said Kerrie Tinsley-Stribling, who taught Amanda in a course titled “Empowering Women Through Self-Expression” and serves as Amanda’s Senior Project mentor. “She hasn’t looked at any part of her project as an obstacle in the negative sense; she views each challenge as an opportunity to demonstrate her personal strength.”
Because fear and shame are the two most common reasons victims do not report their attacks, empowering victims and encouraging widespread vigilance are keys to reversing rape culture, as well as integral to the mission of In My Shoes.
In addition to a website that includes a wealth of statistics and resources for helping those affected by sexual violence, Amanda has created an “event-in-a-box,” a tool educators can use to raise awareness of the topic using age-appropriate and easy-to-understand language. The kits are currently available to schools by request, and Amanda’s hope is that someday all schools will be equipped with them.
To tell the stories of rape survivors, Amanda is producing a short documentary focused on the experiences of four rape survivors, which will be screened during Senior Project Exhibition Week. Additionally, In My Shoes supporters can purchase pairs of shoelaces—symbolizing survivors’ work to tie their lives back together following assault—decorated by Amanda and other survivors.
Earlier this month, Amanda hosted two public screenings of the 2015 documentary The Hunting Ground, which covers the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. Each event was followed by a panel discussion comprising survivors, parents of survivors, and mental health professionals.
“Rape is such a controversial issue because it’s not really talked about,” Amanda said. “Experiencing and surviving rape is not something that should be feared; survivors should be respected and understood. Education is the only way that will happen.”
Though she started In My Shoes for her Senior Project, Amanda expects that the foundation will survive long beyond exhibition night. “I don't think Amanda realizes the magnitude of incredible work she is doing,” said Kerrie. “Her passion for this subject gives me hope that young women will realize their worth and the incredible amount of strength they have as a united force to instill social change.”
Although many students root their Senior Projects in a lifelong interest or skill, some—like Seamus McCarthy—build their projects around a passion cultivated right here on the Ross campus. One day last year, Seamus brought a knife with a broken handle to Visual Arts teacher and shop director Jon Mulhern. What began as a plan to fix the knife soon evolved, with Jon’s guidance, into an after-school project in which the pair fashioned it into an axe using the remains of a broken hammer. This smaller task then inspired Seamus’s Senior Project: crafting his own forge and a full set of blacksmithing hand tools.
Blacksmithing, which is thought to predate the Iron Age, is a slow and methodical art in which heavy iron is heated until malleable and manipulated into new tools and designs. Success at it requires skills cultivated through patience, practice, and the support of a strong mentor.
Jon, who typically assists more than 10 students with Senior Projects every year, serves as Seamus’s mentor and has seen the senior’s dedication pay off. Seamus spent the past summer taking courses in Brooklyn, and he regularly watches videos of other artists shaping tools and spends time refining his process. “Seamus has come to love the process of metalsmithing,” said Jon. “Slowly, he has started to learn to think in metal and see the shaping process in his mind before making strikes with his hammer.”
Among the challenges of Seamus’s project is that because metalsmithing is new to him, mistakes can be costly. “I’m making things I have never made before, like a pair of tongs and a hammer,” he said. “I use videos as my guide, but I have to restart if I overheat a piece or if I hit it while it’s too cold. So forging each piece can take a while.”
Despite the time involved for both student and mentor, the payoff is worth it. “A really good Senior Project can change a student. I love to see that passion develop in my students,” Jon said. “Sometimes in life, there is simply nothing better then hitting a red-hot piece of metal with a hammer and shaping your future.”
This series captures the Class of 2017’s experience as they pursue their Senior Projects. Stay in touch with Ross News for ongoing coverage!
Ross News would like to introduce you to one of the campus’s most diligent students this year: Tucci, the Golden Retriever puppy. Tucci’s constant companion, Isabelle Rowe ’17, is training her to become a Seeing Eye Guide Dog as her Senior Project, and the pair of them can frequently be seen around campus.
Isabelle got the idea to train a puppy following her eleventh grade Modernity project, in which she recreated Ivan Pavlov’s experiments conditioning animals. “Working with the dogs was amazing, and it gave me true results. Dogs can’t fake data!” Isabelle says. For her Senior Project, “I knew I wanted to do something altruistic, in line with our Ross Core Values.”
Isabelle applied for the puppy-raising program with the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, based in Smithtown, NY. The organization works to improve the quality of life for vision-impaired people by providing them with trained guide dogs at no cost. The foundation relies upon the assistance of volunteers to care for and provide preliminary training to puppies for 12–16 months. After they reach this age, they are returned to the organization, where they are assigned to permanent handlers and given advanced needs-specific training.
Isabelle’s initial project challenge was making special arrangements to be allowed to participate in the program. She is only 17—a year younger than the Guide Dog Foundation’s minimum age requirement to foster puppies. Additionally, she had to work to coordinate with the Ross administration in order to have a dog with her on campus.
In July, two months after receiving clearance from Ross, the Guide Dog Foundation paired Isabelle with Tucci, a three-month-old Golden Retriever puppy. Now, Tucci is a playful six-month-old who has proven to be bright and successful at learning commands. She attends school with Isabelle and has her own space among the senior desks: a large crate outfitted with fluffy blankets, treats, toys, and training spray.
For much of the day, Tucci wears a bright yellow vest emblazoned with the words “Future Assistance Dog.” The vest signifies to Tucci and the public that she is at work, but when it is removed, she becomes like any other rambunctious puppy. She frolics through the halls, gnaws on her leather lead, and flops onto her back for belly rubs.
Like many of her classmates, Isabelle is fond of Tucci, but she knows that the success of her project depends on her ability to remain somewhat detached. “I love her, but I cannot be attached to her like my own dog,” Isabelle said. “It would be too hard to give her back.” However, knowing that Tucci is destined to be so much more than a pet, with her future as an indispensable companion for an individual in need ahead of her, is a reward in itself.
The season of 2016–2017 Senior Projects—one of Ross School’s most notable programs—has begun. From now until January, when seniors present their projects publicly, they will be working diligently on the culminating experience of their Ross School career.
The main components of the Senior Project are the Process Folio, the Final Product, and the Presentation. A faculty mentor, acting as facilitator, teacher, advisor, editor, critic, and advocate, works individually with each student to guide and assist them. At the conclusion of the Senior Project, students have achieved deeper insight into themselves as learners and producers.
For some, the stress of Senior Project is mingled with anticipation. Anil Tickaram views the endeavor as an opportunity to leave a legacy at Ross before his time here ends. Several years ago, a student who rebuilt a classic car for his Senior Project inspired Anil—a science and technology enthusiast—to broaden the scope of his project when it came time to choose a topic. This year, he is collaborating with another student to build a go-cart powered by a jet engine.
Other students are drawing on talents and interest they discovered through classes that challenged them and broadened their horizons. Seamus McCarthy developed a passion for blacksmithing during a Visual Arts course. After a summer spent practicing the trade, he plans to build a forge and a set of tools with the assistance of his faculty mentor, Visual Arts teacher Jon Mulhern.
“As a mentor, it is rewarding for me to see students find their passion,” Jon said. “Often, I find that students become so invested that they continue working on their projects months after the project and presentation part of the year is over.”
To ensure that students are prepared for late January’s presentation week, seniors face several milestone deadlines before their projects are complete. They are also actively involved in creating the grading criteria for their own projects. Most recently, they submitted final project proposals; if approved, students will be locked into the topic they have chosen. Later, they’ll be asked to submit grading rubrics and progress reports. Students meet twice weekly as a class to communicate progress and to receive assistance from Dale Scott, Senior Project coordinator.
The progression of tasks helps students stay on top of their work, which in turn enables them to be successful by the end of the term—and makes home life a bit easier. Dale reported that parents are always grateful that the process helps students work through such a large undertaking by breaking it down to smaller steps: “When we talk to parents, they are happy there’s a structure that keeps the students on track.”
Using the technical and design skills fostered in the rigorous science program of Innovation Lab @Ross, senior Elsa Diaw has built a 3D-printed prosthetic arm controlled by electrical signals that travel from the brain to the muscles. Her Senior Project, titled Reach, was inspired by a summer spent volunteering at the Beth Abraham Health Services Center with patients in the physical and occupational therapy units. There, she was afforded a chance to work one on one with patients, an experience that helped her cement her proposal for the project. Under the guidance of mentor Dr. David Morgan, Elsa embarked on creating a device that explored how 3D-printing technology can be used to improve the people’s lives.
Innovation Lab @Ross, an academy within Ross School, focuses on entrepreneurship in science, mathematics, engineering, media, and technology. Elsa entered Innovation Lab as a sophomore and has shown considerable maturity as a young scientist over the past three years. Elsa reflects: “Without Innovation Lab, I wouldn’t have known about any of these technologies. I was interested in the biology aspect of the science but didn’t know much about the technological opportunities in science.” Elsa studied process and arduino coding and combined this with her knowledge of forearm anatomy to build the prosthetic arm. The arm uses a surface electromyography device to record electrical signals produced by the movement of muscles, which are in turn translated into code, and the prosthetic hand is then able to reproduce the movement of the user’s hand.
There was no shortage of awe and fascination surrounding Elsa’s display at Senior Project Exhibition Night. Apprehensive at first, Elsa grew more comfortable as she was able to explain her scientific process to onlookers, one of the biggest challenges of the undertaking project. However, she overcame her concerns by inviting guests to sit and try out her prosthetic and experience the future of medical technology firsthand. Elsa plans to enter college as a pre-med student at either Boston University or Johns Hopkins, and she credits her Senior Project exploration as a major catalyst for her medical ambitions. Her ultimate goal is to become a general surgeon and continue her medical research.
Senior Jodie Paffrath was raised around the family art business, so it was only natural that her background would come into play when deciding upon a Senior Project. However, she was less interested in the business side of things and more curious about creative process. She spent the summer researching Greek sculpture and visiting museums with her father as she laid the foundation for a sculpture project, but in the back of her mind lingered a particular piece of furniture she had seen three years prior: a wooden table with glow-in-the-dark elements. Raised in the German countryside, Jodie finds fascination in gazing at the sky for hours, losing herself in the vast complexity of the universe. So, for her Senior Project, Jodie decided to design and construct a wooden coffee table of her own with a personal, illuminated twist.
Jodie saw her Senior Project as an opportunity to create naturalistic art infused with her own personality. Her mentor, Ned Smyth, helped Jodie design a table that would personify the interplay between the natural world and its contemporary components. After finalizing the design, the next step was to choose a piece of wood. Jodie and her mother traveled all the way to a backwoods warehouse in New Jersey, hauling a marvelous piece of redwood back to East Hampton. Redwood was chosen for what Jodie calls its “transformative power.” Jodie recalls, “I immediately fell in love with the structure of the wood and the little waves that give depth to the structure itself.” Having little experience in woodwork, Jodie then turned to Jon Mulhern for help with the construction of her table. However, Jodie says the greatest challenge came not in the design or carving but in the table’s less obvious details—the miniscule carvings, the drilling of her design, and finally the tedious labor of filling in the holes with layers of paint.
At Senior Project Exhibition Night, Jodie’s table was a showstopper! With the lights off, the details of the table’s intricate design shone. Teachers and parents began coveting the piece right away. Art history teacher Therese Lichtenstein suggested that the table should go to a museum. But Jodie always knew just where her special table would live–in her family home, right in front of the couch, a place where everyone can gather to enjoy the table’s beauty.
Jodie plans to take a gap year to explore the world after her graduation from Ross. She will spend time away from cities and immersed in the countryside, where she can lose herself in the feeling of watching the night sky for hours. Following some time abroad, Jodie intends to pursue a combination of art history and fine arts at a European university. Once shipped to its permanent home in Germany, Jodie’s Earth table will serve as her reminder of how unique and complex the world in which we live is and how important it is to live in a sustainable manner.
This past week, students from the Lower School have been visiting the Upper School to learn about Senior Projects. With Chris Engel, director of Community Programs, they’ve explored the exhibits on display in both the Senior Building and Ross Gallery. They also met up with a few seniors along the way who explained their projects and provided their perspectives on the process of developing their impressive work. One senior, Shanshan He, described developing her project about four interconnected areas of sustainability—ecology, culture, economics, and politics—in Zavora, Mozambique.
Mr. Chris, as he is known at Ross, provided the younger students with some background about the importance of the Senior Project, explaining that it is the culmination of the learning experience at Ross.
The visits led the Lower School students to speculate on what areas they may focus on in the future. Possible topics ranged from music and dance to animal care and video gaming.
Lower School Counselor Sharon Burns said the children were very excited to be at the Upper School campus: “They were attentive and respectful when the seniors were presenting. It was a positive experience for everyone.” She also said the children could relate to many of the projects. For example, fourth grade is working on charitable causes, so they identified with several Senior Projects that focused on areas such as volunteerism and raising money to support families impacted by cancer. “This made a great connection for them,” Sharon said.