Passions to Senior Projects
All of the Hopkins community eagerly awaited 3:00 p.m. on Friday, May 19. Students and faculty gathered in Upper Heath on the warm day to view a room full of cool knowledge.
Each year, the Senior Project Fair displays a range of the Senior Class’s interests, creativity, and hard work. This year, thirty-seven spectacular projects were presented by forty-seven seniors.
The Senior Project Committee is made up of sixteen faculty members and is chaired by English Department member Ian Melchinger. Melchinger noted, “A Senior Project gives students a sense of realness by doing something they actually want to do, rather than just something for a class grade.”
The process of choosing a topic is a unique experience for each senior. Hunter Congdon ’17, who built a train station model, reflected: “I had all of this equipment that my grandfather had given me when I was little, intending to teach me how to use it. He died before I ever got the opportunity, and I wanted to finally learn how to use all of this stuff. Combined with my interest in history, it was a no-brainer.”
In order to do a Senior Project, students must first write a proposal that then needs to be approved by the Committee. Once passed, seniors must find a faculty advisor who can oversee their work progress. “The number of project advisers is our biggest limitation” said Ian Melchinger. “When there are over forty seniors wanting to do projects, advisors are in high demand, and with forty-five to fifty students each year wanting to do this research, advisors are quite difficult to find.
As project advisor, Diversity Director, and English teacher, Amanda Friedman described, “The advisor’s primary role is to support the student’s work, both logistically and philosophically. Advisors provide advice and guidance along the way and ultimately keep the students on track to finish their projects.”
Tim Halvorsen was another student who completed a senior project. Having performed in fourteen theatrical productions over his Hopkins career, he decided it was time to write a play himself. ODDS details the drama, miscommunication, and heartbreak that goes with a high school relationship “My adviser was Mike [Calderone], and he was always available to read my writing and give me feedback.”
With his drafts, Halvorsen had focus groups read his play out loud. “After the first and second focus groups, I made tons of edits to the storyline. Later, I met with Mr. Calderone who gave me an idea that would totally rework the whole story. I moved the climax back a few scenes and basically changed the entire framework of the play. It was different from my original idea but I was very happy with the outcome.”
Each senior faces challenges unique to their project. Liza Kottler ’17 who completed a Senior Project about mental illnesses, felt that “The biggest responsibility of [her] project was maintaining the anonymity of the people [she] interviewed.” Kottler said, “These people are trusting me to tell their stories in a way that keeps their identities a secret, and I have so much respect and love for these wonderful people who volunteered.”
Kottler’s project had her interview Hopkins individuals dealing with psychological disorders. From these interviews, she “cultivated the ideas for photos, which [she] took and edited [herself].”
Melchinger noted that students were excited and determined for their project week one, and rallied together for week six, but that weeks two through five were the hardest. “Students learn a lot about themselves in weeks two through five, and it’s the time many struggle to find motivation.” Congdon ’17 says, “there is much less time for the Senior project than you think. You think ‘oh it’s six weeks, that’s so much time.’ It’s not.”
“When doing a senior project, students realize that when you do your best, you will still fall over, and you have to learn how to deal with these setbacks,” says Melchinger. Yet, doing a project also allows students to apply their acquired abilities to a new concept. “It was certainly not easy, but I came away from it knowing the importance of showing your writing to other people and getting it out of your head, how it feels to have your writing workshopped, and what I can put together in a certain amount of time. These skills will serve me well in college and in my future endeavors,” said Halvorsen.
Holden Turner ’17 whose goal was to create a set of buildings and essays to call his own said, “My whole project was initially founded upon uncertainty. My experience with the project was an experience of insight into my capabilities as a creator, unlike other projects, I didn’t know what I would discover or create until the end.”
At the end, Turner had designed and created a model structure “loosely based in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.” In addition, his two essays answered questions proposed throughout the architectural design process.
At the end of the six week process, students must show their final project and their concluding statement at the project fair, and be able to reflect what they learned over the past six weeks. Friedman predicted that “Seniors with an authentic passion and curiosity for their topic would end up with the most successful experiences.”