Senioritis is an alien concept to the 12th-graders in the Ulysses Signature Program at Northwest High School in Germantown. Instead of experiencing the usual decline in motivation, each of these students has devoted much of senior year to the arduous process of concluding a personal odyssey. On April 29 and 30, 35 Class of 2015 members presented their final projects at the Ulysses Fair; another 50 did the same in January.
Ulysses, which has been at Northwest for a dozen years, is named for the Greek warrior Odysseus—Ulysses in Latin—known for “his arduous but instructive 10-year journey home to Ithaca, as told by Homer in ‘The Odyssey,’” program coordinator Dr. Suzanne Borenzweig said. The epic poem, she explained, “serves as a metaphor for our work together over the four-year journey to the culminating research project during senior year.
“We encourage the students to pursue a passion whether it’s palm reading, commercial drones, or the films of Hayao Miyazaki. Completing a Ulysses project is not about earning a grade or padding a resume; it’s about sharing what you love and teaching others what you learned about your deepest interests,” Dr. Borenzweig said.
The Ulysses students, she said, “learn skills they will be expected to know and apply upon arriving in college freshman year, but are never explicitly taught. For example, the students in Ulysses learn to navigate their way through specialized databases such as JSTOR to select relevant articles from scholarly journals. They learn to read those published research studies critically and carefully, with an eye toward validity, reliability, as well as relevance.”
In addition, Dr. Borenzweig noted, “they gain experience designing many different kinds of qualitative, quantitative, and experimental studies. They learn that the term ‘data’ does not only apply to statistical finding. They develop the confidence to contact experts in their field of interest, and then request and conduct meaningful interviews. Finally, Ulysses students have many opportunities to share their research in a variety of forms whether through print, oral presentation, Ulysses Fair exhibition, and/or online platforms.”
Among the students at the fair was self-described sports fanatic Ethan Cadeaux, who also served as The Town Courier’s student sports reporter this year. His study, “From the Field to the Booth: The Study of Former Athletes in Sports Media,” explored the trend of athletes entering the sports media field and how that affects the overall profession—as well as how this will impact Cadeaux’s own career plans. “The only truly surprising thing I learned was how few Northwest students could name at least one non-former athlete journalist. Only 29 out of the 150 I surveyed knew who Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless or Jay Crawford was,” he said. Most important, he added, “I learned was just how competitive sports media is, and that I will have to work very hard to get in the field.” Cadeaux will study sports journalism at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism in the fall.
Jade Lowenstein’s project, “Txting Kills: How Effective Are Texting While Driving Laws?” came out of the death of a friend she idolized. Annalee, 20, a student at Virginia Tech and “probably the sweetest girl you could ever meet,” Lowenstein said, “was believed to be texting” when she had a fatal head-on collision. That tragic loss inspired Lowenstein “to see how effective the laws are in preventing death and accident rates.” She was “completely shocked” that a survey of 200 Northwest juniors and seniors revealed that 59 percent, or 118 students, text while driving. Having learned that 86 percent of 173 students know the state laws, she concluded that “my peers are very aware of the laws, but continue to break them, meaning they (the laws) clearly aren’t doing their jobs.” She was dismayed that students admitted to going on social networking sites, playing games and even Googling music lyrics while they drive. “I believe we need to make harsher laws and spread awareness,” Lowenstein said. As a University of Maryland student next semester, she plans to continue her personal crusade.
Hannah Kauffman’s “Art Knows No Boundaries,” grew out of her five years of involvement as a volunteer mentor with ArtStream, a nonprofit organization that brings “the transformative power of the arts to everyone, especially those who are challenged by disabilities or life circumstances.” What Kauffman feels is the most important thing she learned is that “A therapy does not need to be for those with a disability. Anyone can use therapy to solve problems and overcome obstacles. … That’s also the biggest thing I learned about myself. I learned that I should not generalize. … My research helped me learn that I need to do more research on the world and become more open-minded to what else occurs in the world.
About Ulysses, she said, “It’s not one of your typical projects in school where you teacher constantly monitors you to make sure you’re on the right path. You need to take it upon yourself and complete all the work you need to in order to make your project successful.”
Kauffman will study musical theatre and speech pathology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and plans to “eventually open my own speech pathology practice and incorporate musical theatre skills.”
Seeing double amputee Oscar Pistorius compete in the 2012 Olympics inspired track and cross-country runner Sam Weingord to produce “Putting the ‘Able’ in Disabled: A Study of the Ethics of Prosthetics in Sports,” which “examines the technical aspects of prosthetics and the personal experiences of amputee athletes to determine the role that prosthetics should play in professional sports.”
While the subject is not as personal as many of his other classmates’ choices, “it was something I found interesting,” he said. “My teacher stressed the importance of researching something you are interested in because when you are not interested, researching becomes much harder and your work suffers.”
Weingord was surprised about “the legitimacy of both sides of the argument. I did not realize the complexity of the issues and how there are many reasons both for and against prosthetics in professional sports. The most important thing I learned about my project was how each prosthetic/amputation is unique and affects an individual differently. This is the reason why it is difficult to make laws or generalizations about prosthetics in sports.” As to the Ulysses program, he said he feels “better prepared for college research,” and will use the skills he acquired to study engineering at the University of Maryland.