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Learning by Doing. Building Community.

Spotlight on Senior Projects

  • Senior Projects 1

Animal Conservation in Kenya and Rwanda

Describe the objective of your project. What inspired you to pursue this idea?

I wanted to do something with conservation and animals. I was given the opportunity to travel to Kenya and Rwanda with a group of people in the conservation department at the Houston Zoo. While we were there, we observed predatory cats in the Masai Mara. Then, we traveled to Rwanda and spent about a week trekking through the Virunga Mountains and rainforest to observe eleven families of Mountain Gorillas (an endangered species—Rwanda and the Congo are their last two remaining habitats).

What have been some of the highlights along the way?

The most memorable moment of my project by far was on the first day that we went trekking up the mountain and finally got to the first gorilla family. We spent about three hours hiking through the jungle, which was so thick that we had to cut back branches. By the time we finally got to the gorillas we were exhausted, but the gorillas were so sweet and playful that it was definitely worth it.

What challenges have you faced in completing your project?

I think the hardest part of the project was time zone adjustment and stomaching the history of the Rwanda Genocide and the conflict that still exists in the Congo today.

What have you learned by completing this project?

1. Mountain Gorillas are extremely endangered and only have two habitats remaining in Eastern Africa.
2. Taking care of the human population comes before conservation (once the human population is cared for, it makes conservation much easier).
3. Rwanda has recovered incredibly quickly and well from the Genocide, so now they are trying to encourage tourism to bring in money.

Might this be the beginning of a new passion for you?Please explain.

I think it has made me care even more about conservation, especially the gorillas. I also think that I will return to Rwanda and the Congo (when it is safer) so that I can continue to help those communities. I'm not sure if I'll pursue a profession in wildlife conservation, but I think I'll always try to have a part in it.

What advice would you give to next year's seniors when the time comes for them to embark on their own projects?

Nothing is too crazy — if you think you'll enjoy it, do it.

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  • Senior Projects 1

Designing a Solar Powered Charger

Describe the objective of your project.

The objective of my project was to learn about consumer product design and market research following Tool. Inc's iterative design process, a description of which is available here http://toolinc.com/process/. I wanted to pursue this project as it is an industry which I have great interest in as it speaks to many of my interests. It allows me to be artistic and mathematical simultaneously, and also allows me to design things to better the world. As a passionate environmentalist I wanted to design a product which would be as environmentally responsible as it was useful. In the end I settled on designing a solar powered charger that could charge a phone without any need for input from the grid. This first required market analysis, then I learned how to use CAD modeling, then I designed my charger in CAD software. Then I printed the prototype, and sourced my components. I then printed the final copies of the printed components, and manufactured the final product, which works!

What have been some of the highlights and/or memorable moments along the way?

The major highlight of my project so far has been taking my product out on the first sunny day and seeing my phone register that it is charging. It was very gratifying to see a week and a half's work function as planned. Another memorable and rather gratifying moment was when I printed my prototype and found that all the parts fit perfectly. It has also been very pleasant working at Tool. To speak with and work alongside so many intelligent and passionate people is inspiring.

What challenges have you faced in completing your project?

The first challenge I faced was overcoming my own anxieties. I had never worked with CAD software or 3D printing before, so it was quite intimidating to sit among pros and have trouble with the most basic design. But after one day of asking questions and doing tutorials, I had grown quite adept with the modeling software and was ready to work on my own project. Another challenge was learning about electronics and wiring. While I have had prior experience in this field, wiring an electric guitar is worlds away from wiring a solar powered charger, but luckily I found by doing my research I was able to wire and solder it with ease! Lastly, time pressures have made completing my product feel rushed at times, however I ultimately finished ahead of schedule. Ultimately, I think this pressure was good as it resembles what actual designers face, as they often have just weeks to put out a prototype. This pressure actually allowed me to make a second product which you can read about on my google doc.

What are the top three things you've learned?

The greatest thing I've learned is just how much thought goes into the things we buy. Even something as simple as a seatbelt latch has been designed and prototyped to an extreme degree. Behind every product there is a clever engineer and industrial designer with a keen eye.

I've learned many useful skills myself including, how 3d modeling works, how 3d printing works, how solar panels work and can be wired. I've also learned how to design and prototype, and how to evaluate a market. It's so cool to have been exposed to all of this.

Lastly, I learned something pretty cool while interviewing one of the designers. He spoke about the differences between designers and marketers. The designer will put silicon grips on a glove but it's not until it reaches marketing that that feature becomes "griptonite technology."

What advice would you give to next year's seniors when the time comes for them to embark on their own projects?

The temptation to do something easy, or to do something safe, or to just do something with your friends is always present. But, it's genuinely more rewarding if you do something that you are passionate about.

Read more about Alexander's project!

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  • Senior Projects

Learning to Repair and Drive a Racecar

Describe your goals with this project.

The objective of my project was to go help my brother-in-law repair his racecar and then get a chance to drive the car on a real race track. I was inspired to do this by my incredible love for MarioKart when I was younger as well as just wanting to take a peek into the world of mechanical engineering.

What were some of your most memorable moments along the way?

The most memorable moment was when I first sat in my brother-in-law's racecar on our first run on a race track. It was terrifying how fast we were going but also really cool at the same time because you don't get to go 150 mph every day.

What were some of your biggest challenges?

I mostly faced smaller challenges like how to get bolts out of a wheel or how to replace oil without getting it everywhere, but no challenges that couldn't be figured out after a couple minutes of thinking.

What are the top three things you learned?

-How to change oil

-How to change transmission fluid

-How to change a tire

(Now I can do it on my car!)

Might this be the beginning of a new passion for you? Please explain.

I don't think so. As cool as some of the stuff I experienced was, I was completely burnt out and didn't want to look at a car by the time the two weeks was up. That sort of explains itself.

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  • Senior Projects

Shadowing Firefighters in Wenham

Describe the objective of your project. What inspired you to pursue this idea?

My project was working with the Wenham Fire Department. As kids, a lot of people at some point or another say that they want to be a firefighter when they grow up. This was true for me.

What have been some of the highlights?

There was one experience that summed up what it is like to be a firefighter pretty perfectly. On my second day, we ordered lunch and were just sitting down when we got a call. Everyone dropped everything, grabbed their gear, and hopped on the trucks. That to me just reinforced how something can happen at any moment and that you have to be ready for anything.

What challenges have you faced in completing your project?

At times there was not a whole lot do whereas other times we were constantly moving from one thing to the next.

What are the top three things you've learned?

Being a firefighter is nothing like what people see in movies and on television. There is a lot of waiting for things to happen. Incidents come in clusters sometimes where there will be a few in a row and other times there will be nothing. There is also a lot of maintenance involved, whether that be cleaning trucks, checking gear, or stocking supplies. Preparation can be the difference in saving someone's life.

Might this be the beginning of a new passion for you? Please explain.

Although it is not a career that I am looking at, the past two weeks have been really interesting to see what actually happens in the life of a firefighter.

What advice would you give to next year's seniors when the time comes for them to embark on their own projects?

Pick something that is interesting to you and not just something that looks good. If you don't it will be a rough two weeks.

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  • Senior Projects 2

Volunteering with Lazarus House in Lawrence

What inspired you to pursue this project?

I have always been involved in community service through my church but I found I never really wanted to stop helping. The Lazarus House offers services like shelter and food but also has great programs that teach people English, help them find jobs, and even teach them how to cook to become working chefs. Their mission is close to my heart as I live next to Lawrence and am exposed to many poverty stricken areas and I want to help.

What challenges have you faced in completing your project?

My biggest challenge was forcing myself out of my comfort zone. When encountering people less fortunate than yourself, it's hard not to fell embarrassed. Greeting guests and making sure that they know you care was also intimidating, but I found it became easier with time.

What are the top three things you've learned?

  • That the homeless deserve the dignity of choice. We owe them our respect and love just as anyone else.
  • Giving someone your time is more valuable than any amount of money you could give them, listening to their story instead of trying to tell them what they should be doing.
  • Living by "Did you know... ?" can change the way you look at everything in the world. This concept speaks to the mantra of never judging a book by its cover. I will forever think about someone's personal story before making a judgment about them.

Might this be the beginning of a new passion for you?

This is a continuation of a passion I discovered long ago. I imagine my life without helping others around me as a very sad one. The heartbreak and tears that come with watching people struggle are nothing compared to those actually suffering from this travesty. I hope my project can show the impact the Lazarus House has made on not only myself, but everyone who encounters the organization.

What advice would you give to next year's seniors when the time comes for them to embark on their own projects?

Choose something you love, that is your passion. I never imagined my project turning out so amazing but I went into the office everyday with a smile and excitement, which pays off in the long run. Do something that makes you happy and be happy doing it, say thank you, and laugh a lot.

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  • Senior Projects 2

Tutoring at 826 Boston

Describe your motivations behind this project.

I worked with 826 Boston, a nonprofit youth tutoring, writing, and publishing organization that empowers traditionally underserved students age 6-18 to find their voices, tell their stories, and gain communication skills to succeed in school and in life. It's located in Egleston Square, Roxbury. I was inspired to pursue this idea because I've been incredibly fortunate to have access to the education Pingree has provided me. A lot of kids don't have the same access. I wanted to give back, and use what I've learned to help others. I also wanted to give back to somewhere Bostonian before I left for college in California.

What have been some of the highlights?

A memorable moment for me was when I helped explain fasting and Ramadan to one of the students. She didn't understand, and was trying to give a fasting student water (which can be considered pretty disrespectful). I was happy to help her understand this, and gain new perspective into a different culture/religion.

Another memorable moment was when I had to call families to remind them of an upcoming event, and then realized some of the families were Spanish-speaking only. Instead of passing off the task, I challenged myself and called them! It went really well, and I was really proud of myself.

What are the top three things you've learned?

  • When you're the adult in a situation, act like it. Don't let kids get away with bad behavior because you're afraid of being the "bad guy."
  • Although completing tasks is important, it's also really important to prioritize building trust and relationships with any and all kids you work with.
  • Do not ever forget your inner child.

Might this be the beginning of a new passion for you? Please explain.

Absolutely. Working with kids has always been something that I've loved, but there's something very special about helping them when they're struggling. They may not be their best selves (behaviorally) because they're frustrated, but you get to watch that click. You get to really see how you've helped.

What advice would you give to next year's seniors when the time comes for them to embark on their own projects?

Jump into something you didn't think you would. I originally wanted my senior project to focus on the career that I want— Zoology and Wildlife Conservation. Go for something you never would've chosen initially. You won't regret it!

Read more about Cady's project!

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