Independent Study Projects for Seniors

During Minimester, seniors conduct an independent study project (ISP) to investigate a potential career or explore an academic interest in greater depth. To get the most from their internship or research experience, students keep a journal, write a final report and make a presentation to the school community. Whether their interests are confirmed or challenged, seniors find independent study to be a valuable tool for evaluating where they're headed before they get to college. A notation of the student's performance — either Honors, Pass or Fail — appears on her final transcript. Particularly outstanding ISPs are recognized with honors at Commencement.

Examples of recent Independent Study Projects are below:

Animal Rights and Veganism

Deciding to examine a field that is close to her heart, Erica '15 shadowed professionals at Compassion Over Killing in Washington, D.C. This organization’s main focus is to shed light on animal cruelty and promote vegetarian eating as a way to build a kinder world for both humans and nonhumans. Upon her arrival at COK, Erica was surprised how small the staff was but was grateful since this allowed her to work with everyone in the office and experience all realms of the company. She was especially eager to work with the Executive Director, Erica Meier, who is very established in the vegan world. Over the course of her ISP, Erica was put to work packing and sending donation envelopes, becoming familiar with avenues the company uses to promote veganism and animal rights, and coordinating research. What set this ISP apart from the rest was that the day was not over once Erica left the office. Her animated presentation and thorough journal depicts how animal advocacy and veganism is part of her life and not just a potential career path. Erica mentioned that she really enjoyed living in D.C. for the two weeks of her job trial because of how easy it is to live a vegan lifestyle in a city. There are many like-minded people with whom she was able to network and restaurant options that were in line with Erica’s meat-free lifestyle. This was, obviously, a powerful ISP, in which every avenue to explore the subject matter at hand was taken advantage of. Everything from the experience to the evaluations reflected the time and energy she invested.

Criminal Justice and the Legal System

Discovering the field of criminal law, José '15 stood out from the rest in large part due to her presentation. Earning the highest scoring lecture this year, her confidence and command of her topic impressed the evaluators. José’s in-depth ISP exploration took her back to her home on the island of Dominica, where she shadowed site sponsor, attorney Wayne Norde. After a harrowing day of travel and delayed flights, José arrived and, with Mr. Norde, made daily schedules in order for her to experience several sides of the Dominican legal system in both violent and non-violent cases. She dove right in and was thoroughly briefed on a case of incest and another three of murder. Before one of her trials started, José arrived to court early so she could have the opportunity to conduct five-minute interviews with each of the police officers present. She, additionally, observed the format of a Dominican court hearing, paying special attention to the different duties of police officers. Because of some of the sensitive matters surrounding the incest case, José did not attend the hearing, but instead made use of her time going to the library to research the political and legal system of Dominica and found more similarities than expected between the Dominica Constitution, adopted in 1978, and the U.S. Constitution. José’s go-getter attitude impressed many and will serve her well as she continues her education in the study of law.

Environmental Footprints

This ISP, which explored Hawaii’s environment, was a little different than most in that Paige '15 did not have a site sponsor and was able to experience a lot of different areas that sparked her interest. Being an avid supporter of the Chesapeake Bay’s health, Paige set out in the hopes of learning about the water, soil, and wildlife of another ecosystem. Upon her arrival to Kona, Paige recalled many environmental red flags like trash littering the side of the road, landscaping maintained by sprinklers, and rain grates along the roads that dumped into the Pacific. Although seeing the impact that humans have on the environment was disheartening, Paige continued to explore the island’s different components. Paige laughingly said that she stayed active by hiking Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park and exploring the arid lava fields. The volcanoes’ ecosystems were extremely barren except for the ferns and flowers that were growing, an example of primary ecological succession. She shared that, “over time, these plants will spread and break down the lava rocks and in hundreds of years, the area will become a thriving rain forest again. Mother nature is really resilient!” Other fascinating portions of Paige’s ISP included visiting the energy lab at Hawaii Preparatory Academy and snorkeling in order to view various species of fish. Throughout the duration of her ISP, Paige shared her findings by blogging: Among those discoveries, Paige learned that new species are still being discovered, fish can be farmed in cages and have no impact on the environment, and buildings can be cooled by sea water air conditioning. With her ISP furthering her interest in the field of biology, Paige plans to major in marine biology.

Neonatal Intensive Care and Pediatric Medicine

Deciding on an ISP was easy for Camryn '16. She has known she wanted to be a doctor since she was 7-years-old and to work with children since she visited a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the age of 10. With aspirations to one day become a pediatric surgeon, she felt that shadowing both a neonatologist, the doctor on a NICU, and a nurse on the same unit but at a different hospital would give her great insight into the pediatric medical field. Camryn divided her ISP experience between Henrico’s Doctors Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, and the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia. At Henrico’s Doctors, Dr. Arthur Shepard served as her site sponsor. Here, she accompanied him on rounds, at meetings with nurses, and during family check-ins. She was surprised to see that so much paperwork was involved in his daily schedule: charting and updating patients’ status. The most interesting cases she observed at Henrico’s Doctors included a patient with a narcotics addiction and another with pulmonary hypertension. When a baby goes through withdrawal from a narcotic, there is high risk for seizures and other neurological damage. Camryn explained that this was the hardest part of her ISP. She enjoyed, though, learning about the medications used to help babies in both cases. At the UVA Hospital, Camryn shadowed Elizabeth Heyl, a NICU nurse and parent of St. Margaret’s alumna, Eliza ’14. While working with Nurse Heyl, Camryn helped to monitor patient conditions, witnessing feedings, administering of medication, and various forms of therapy (occupational, physical, even speech therapy on a newborn with a cleft palate). During her ISP, Camryn was exposed to all the facets related to treating the smallest and most vulnerable human patients and came to reaffirm her calling to work in some form of pediatric medicine.

Shark Research and Marine Biology

What began as a childhood fascination in the Great white sharks on the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week eventually blossomed into Erin’s career goal to study marine biology and to help others become more educated when it comes to marine life and how to protect it. Combined with a passion for adventure, Erin '16 had the amazing opportunity to conduct her ISP at the Bimini Biological Field Station in Bimini, The Bahamas. Erin spent 10 days, both living and working, at the Bimini Shark Lab, assisting in research alongside college students and scientists. Her ISP began with a “Research Experience,” seeing first-hand how research is conducted at the lab. During her stay, she learned how to identify, measure, and safely capture sharks. She dove into open water to observe Hammerhead sharks, swam with and caught Lemon sharks bare-handed in shallow water, and checked bait lines for data collection of Tiger sharks. When checking bait lines, Erin came into direct contact with Tiger sharks – a potentially dangerous encounter. It is during this time when she came to appreciate the work of a field researcher most. In her time in Bimini, she also helped out around the island with beach cleanup, rescue missions, and the removal of marine debris. Erin came across other marine life as well, such as Bull sharks, Nurse sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, Blacktip sharks, Spotted eagle rays, Southern stingrays, and Sea turtles. Erin walked away for her ISP experienced with a heightened interest in the field. She hopes to not only explore a marine biologist degree but to one day get her PhD in shark biology.