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Meet the seven Pingry seniors—equally committed in the classroom as they are in their sport—who earned this year's conference, county, Prep, and state honors. 

The Pingry Independent Senior Project

For many students, the Independent Senior Project (ISP) is one of their most memorable and rewarding experiences at Pingry. The capstone of a Pingry Upper School education, the ISP is a self-designed learning project that students undertake outside of the classroom during the final five weeks of their senior year. From exploring fields of interest through internships in medicine, finance, law, or media, for example, to following a dream to develop their own community and civic engagement or art project, students are invited to delve into a topic or project that they have always wanted to explore but for which they have never quite had the time.

As part of the ISP, Pingry students receive feedback and guidance from their project mentor and Pingry's ISP coach. At the culmination of the program, participants present their projects to the school community and family members—a great opportunity for younger students to learn about the ISP program and begin to envision what they might like to pursue their senior year.

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Recent ISPs

Angelina Mayers

Class of 2019

Inspired by the way in which public art can shape a space and represent a community, Angelina Mayers '19 and classmate Vicky Chen '19 planned to create a public display of art of their own—in the form of a large, four-by-twelve-foot mural—to brighten up the blank walls they noticed in some of the hallways at Pingry. Their goal was to construct an energizing mural that would reflect the different moods of Pingry students, faculty, and staff, while also serving as positive inspiration to those passing by.

As a first step in their ISP, the friends planned trips to Jersey City, seeking out ideas and inspiration from the widespread murals that are part of the Jersey City Mural Arts Program. They observed a large range of public art, including artwork from renowned artist Shepard Fairey to simple graffiti tags, studying the many different techniques of paint mixing and pouring. Angelina and Vicky also pored through books, taking in as much as possible before initiating the mural's design phase. It was important to them that the mural reflect their experiences at Pingry, so they incorporated design elements reminiscent of their doodles from their class notebooks over the years. Eventually, they landed on an aesthetically pleasing mural that includes silhouettes of different animals, with a balanced contrast of light and dark, along with specific motifs and color themes to create a sense of consistency within the piece.

Since she had never worked on a large piece of this scale before this, Angelina was surprised by how time-consuming the development process would be, even underestimating the time required to create such a colossal project. The original plan was to create two or three murals, but as time elapsed, she and Vicky only had time to complete a single mural. According to Angelina, the hardest parts of the ISP were the research and planning phase, rethinking the space after realizing their time limitations,  and finding ways to incorporate the different ideas of two artists. "Throughout our piece, Vicky and I incorporated both of our different styles. We had to work around and even rethink our space in order to make a piece that both of us enjoyed." 

After completing their mural, the piece was placed on display for all to enjoy on a wall in Pingry's Lower Commons, across from the Health and Wellness Suite. The artists were pleased with the final product and view their mural as "our very last doodle at Pingry."  They were also delighted to give something back to the Pingry community. As a final piece of advice for any upcoming seniors who plan to work on a visual art project for their ISP, Angelina recommends they spend their time wisely and create a clear plan of action beforehand in order to execute the project.  She also suggests finding inspiration ASAP—"Before you even realize it, the time flies by!" 

Alex Strasser

Class of 2019

While a student at Pingry, Alex discovered a curiosity for computer science projects, along with an interest in art, which influenced his decision to create an ISP that centered on the intersection of both. Alex noticed little overlap between more traditional computer science coursework and art, and since he had become fascinated with 3D animation (and wondered how it worked), he designed an ISP that allowed him to combine his interests.

With the assistance of his project mentor, Pingry computer science teacher Dr. Marie-Pierre Jolly, Alex designed an ISP that involved using Java to create a 3D rendering engine—the type of tool used to create modern animated films—in order to create his own 3D shapes on screen. 

Early on in his project, Alex realized that developing his own new technology would be harder than it seemed at first. "My original plan of combining existing virtual and augmented reality technologies together was a seemingly simple idea in theory, especially without understanding the real work that goes into each respective field. I spent two weeks attacking the problem from a higher level, but eventually realized I was making little progress. At that point, I decided to pivot my approach to learning the fundamentals of rendering at a much lower level."

To complete his project, Alex had to learn math beyond what he had studied at Pingry, and Dr. Jolly was an enormous help in this aspect. She had a great deal of experience with computer vision, which relies on similar mathematical techniques. After immersing himself in learning new material, Alex's final deliverable was a video clip that shows triangles, moving lights, and the camera moving through space, all generated using a custom renderer to demonstrate various features.

Reflecting on lessons learned from his ISP, Alex acknowledges some mistakes, and realizes how much he learned from his experience. "I wish I had started with a simpler project initially and expanded it over time. I wasted a lot of time working from the top instead of starting at the bottom. This made it a learning experience in more than one way for me, but I am happy with how it turned out." Encouraged by how much he enjoyed his ISP experience, Alex has decided to continue advanced-level studies in engineering. "I am now studying electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and want to continue to not only learn engineering and computer science techniques, but also learn how these techniques can carry over to other cool fields as well, just as my ISP did."

Anne Leithead

Class of 2019

For various Pingry students, the ISP is an opportunity to develop a one-of-a-kind project that has never been done before, which was the avenue taken by Anne ("Annie") Leithead for her capstone senior project. Annie, along with classmate Drew Beckmen '19, created a unique proposal that involved planning a 300-mile bike trip across New England, along with a well thought-out risk management plan to prepare for unexpected circumstances or mishaps along the way. Both seniors had extensive bike touring experience, so their ISP was an opportunity to participate in an activity they love, while also taking on the new responsibility of planning a trip's logistics all on their own.

Annie and Drew's ISP included mapping out their bike route, which started out in Salisbury, Massachusetts and ended in Bar Harbor, Maine, as well as planning for unanticipated scenarios that could potentially arise. In developing their project idea, Annie was reminded of her dad's longtime advice, "Proper planning prevents poor performance." This phrase had always motivated Annie to study before tests and do her best at sporting practices, but as she planned her ISP, this old adage took on new meaning. The 20-page risk management plan they developed included turn-by-turn directions for their bike route, along with scenic stops and lunch spots that they researched. The plan also included more serious content, such as protocols to follow in the case of  injury, theft, or inclement weather. "By laying out instructions for ourselves should we ever be in such a scenario, we felt more comfortable with whatever situations might have come our way, like thunderstorms or a biking accident, for example," said Annie.

After setting out by bike on May 20, spending several days riding along the coast, exploring small New England towns, and camping in tents at night, on May 26 they arrived in Bar Harbor in time for their flight back home. Reflecting on her ISP, Annie is grateful for the sense of fulfillment in completing their ISP successfully. "I think the highlight for me in accomplishing this risk management plan and bike tour was learning to execute something big with limited input and changes from administration and teachers. Drew and I worked together to create what we thought was a foolproof plan and I was really proud of the work we did for it."

 Annie offers some final advice for seniors thinking about ISP ideas for their own upcoming projects. "THINK BIG! It’s always easy to scale down an idea but you don’t want to be halfway through ISP and wish you had done something more exciting or fulfilling."

Ryan Henriques

Class of 2019

As a student with an interest in the stock market and economic trends, Ryan Henriques sought out an ISP to teach him more about these topics, and also to help him select coursework in college. He was considering studying data analytics after Pingry, so an ISP in the technology department at True Arrow, an SEC-registered investment adviser, could provide him with firsthand experience in the field. Ryan also hoped that this experience would help him decide if data analytics was a good fit and give him a sense of what it is like to work for a small company.

Through his ISP, Ryan worked closely with his mentors, who taught him some basic data science projects and tasks, including an introduction to SQL, a programming language for working with data. Ryan also learned how to use Pentaho, a data analytics and integration platform, and by the end of May, he was able to take raw data, format it into a graph, and write a detailed report analyzing the financial state of a company. Ryan's deliverable consisted of daily journal entries, which recorded his work over the course of the month. He enjoyed updating his journal, commenting, "This was satisfying for me because at the end of every day, I could sit back and see my progress and track what I had learned." 

In addition to learning new data analytic skills, Ryan was pleasantly surprised by the knowledge he gained working in a corporate environment. "One thing I did not expect to gain from my ISP is firsthand experience working in a small company. During my time at True Arrow, I realized the camaraderie between my two ISP advisors, who spend many hours together. They have a very strong bond, and this enables them to work together very well."

In the end, Ryan's ISP was a positive experience, allowing him to achieve the goals he set out for himself. When asked about advice for current Pingry students in the process of developing ISP proposals, Ryan offers a practical approach. "Do something you think you would enjoy, but it should also be useful. This opportunity can help you figure out what to do later in life, and the experience can influence your decisions for what to work towards in college."


 

Jewel Strickland

Class of 2018

Each year, some Pingry seniors approach their Independent Senior Project, better known as ISP, as an opportunity to step out of their comfort zone and explore a new interest, which they might not have had time to pursue before. This was the direction taken by Jewell Strickland '18, as she elected to try her hand at technical directing and stage management for two theatrical productions taking place at Pingry: Proof (a play directed by Megan Pan '18 for her ISP) and the Middle School musical, Cyrano de Burgershack.

Jewell had been curious about technical directing and stage management for quite some time, but her experience in these areas had been limited. Under the helpful guidance of her mentor, Pingry drama teacher Mr. Alan Van Antwerp, the first step in Jewell’s ISP was to learn how to run the lights for Proof. She started off learning about different types of lights, and why some, depending on the angle at which the light is emitted from the lens, are better for certain scenes. Next up for Jewell was to learn how to use Pingry's lightboard to program cues for the show, as well as how to change their color or use different lights in order to set the appropriate atmosphere. She also learned how to set cues to a specific time, and add blackouts between scenes. Jewell was able to apply her new skills to be successful as Proof’s technical director, and this might not be her last stint working on a play. “The knowledge that I gained from this experience will be very helpful if I choose to continue with technical theater in the future, which I hope to.”

Jewell also gained experience in backstage management and working with sets, props, and costumes for the Middle School musical. She reorganized the props room in Attic Theater, making it quicker and easier to find items needed for performances. During the shows, Jewell acted as “crisis control,” responding to any last-minute needs that came up, and she worked closely with the students in the play. She also had the opportunity to create some props of her own, including a sculpture made out of styrofoam and clay.

Offering some final tips for seniors in the process of exploring ideas for their ISPs, Jewell advises, “Choose something that you want to do, and to do it because you love it. I wouldn’t necessarily advise choosing an ISP because it is the most ‘practical’ for the future or because your parents want you to. This is one of the few opportunities you have to try something new or do something you wouldn’t have time to pursue otherwise, and I’d urge anyone to really take advantage of that and have fun with your ISP.”

Alexy Alin-Hvidsten

Class of 2018

For Alexy Alin-Hvidsten '18, Pingry’s ISP was an exciting opportunity to investigate something personal, leading him to research his diverse family history and migration patterns across multiple continents. In the process, he uncovered the reasons for his family’s movements, often in response to political, social, and economic unrest, as well as some unexpected revelations about his close and distant relatives.

Alexy, who does not identify with a single nationality, grew up in the United Kingdom until age nine, when his family moved to the U.S. His parents and grandparents were raised in other countries, spanning most of the globe! Because his family is so culturally and ethnically diverse, Alexy wanted to understand his family members’ geographic movement, which he uncovered by retracing their journeys on a customized, interactive map using Google My Maps. He tracked the movements of 12 immediate family members and nine cousins by color-coding the lines of passage of each individual or group of individuals who moved together. Alexy described the relevance of the locations, as well as corresponding stories and photos of documents, people, or houses in the marked areas, which included locations in Russia, South Africa, Japan, and France, to name a few. By utilizing resources such as Ancestry.com, a book published by his great aunt, Tatyana Grosman, and family records, Alexy was able to find answers, as well as the rationale behind other mysteries, such as why some family members changed their last names to counter anti-semitism in Germany.

Reflecting on some of the project highlights, Alexy shares, “Tying together what I know about my family and the events from contemporary history that coincided with their actions was very interesting. Following the path of my mother’s family fleeing Russia was especially intriguing, as I continually found facts, people, and events that led me further into the journey. I was able to find out more about my family that I never knew and expand upon the information I thought I knew.” For current Pingry students considering different ISP options, Alexy offers up some final advice: “I would definitely recommend people look into a similar ISP. Of course, it will be very different for each person, but if there are interesting stories and parts of your family that you hope to know more about, researching it is certainly a rewarding experience. It was an invaluable experience that I’m sure I will continue to explore.”

Jacqueline Chang

Class of 2018

For Jacqueline (Jackie) Chang '18, Pingry’s Independent Senior Project (ISP) was an opportunity to see for herself how a real-life operating room compares to the stressful environment portrayed in ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. It was also a chance to gain first-hand experience in a hospital, alongside doctors and nurses, to help determine if medicine is a field she wants to pursue in the future.

Interested in learning about different areas of medicine, Jackie decided to split the time she spent on her ISP between working with an anaesthesiologist in the OR and a neonatologist. During the first three weeks, Jackie shadowed an anaesthesiologist at Morristown Medical Center, beginning each day in the surgery holding room, observing her mentor meet with patients and get their consent prior to surgery. Alongside her mentor, Jackie scrubbed in and to observe one to four surgeries a day while sitting quietly on a stool behind a surgical drape, listening to the goings-on between nurses and doctors during surgery. The anaesthesiologist spent time explaining what was taking place before, during, and after surgery, and patiently answered Jackie’s questions. By the end of the three weeks, Jackie had observed a wide range of surgeries, from coronary artery bypass grafts to pediatric hernias, and she came out of it all even more excited than before she started. She joked, “Because everything was so interesting and cool, this experience has made me want to be every type of surgeon, anesthesiologist, and nurse possible!”

Jackie continued with the second phase of her ISP, also at Morristown Medical Center, this time alongside a neonatologist in the NICU. In stark contrast to the OR, Jackie observed the NICU to be a warmer environment, much quieter, and yet almost more tense (the opposite of what she expected). “There was more unease in the NICU because there were many rooms of sick babies, and anytime a vital sign was out of range, a little beeper would go off. I was almost always on edge in the NICU.” In the end, Jackie was pleased with her ISP selection. “I learned how medicine actually works in the real world. The doctors, nurses, and patients all created a fulfilling ISP experience that I will forever be grateful for.”

What final advice can Jackie offer to students deciding what kind of ISP to undertake? “Take advantage of this opportunity! It’s hard to convince hospitals/workplaces for you to crash their daily routine, but, with this senior project, it’s the perfect excuse to shadow and learn from the best. Although such a work-intense ISP might seem unattractive, it’s over in a second. Trust me, I resented waking up at 5:00 a.m. to make it to Morristown by 7:00 a.m. every day, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. It was unbelievably worth it.”

Ish McLaughlin

Class of 2018

As a long-time automobile enthusiast, Ish McLaughlin '18 has always enjoyed spending time around cars, but his knowledge of their inner-workings had been limited. Seeking to learn more, Ish developed an Independent Senior Project, or ISP, that involved hands-on training in an auto repair shop—Hilltop Automotive in Summit—which services a wide range of cars, from Ferraris to minivans.

Over the course of his ISP, Ish participated in just about every project at the shop, from oil changes and clutch jobs, to sourcing and swapping a new engine into a customer’s car. Ish was appreciative that his mentor not only taught him but also let him participate in making repairs. By the end of the month, Ish had acquired more practical skills and knowledge than he could have imagined, as well as confidence in his own abilities. “This hands-on experience with cars proved very valuable, and in the last month I learned more about the mechanical workings of cars than I had in years of being around them. Having this experience was so valuable to me because it showed me that I had learned enough to do repairs on any of my own cars in the future.”

For his ISP deliverable, Ish created an online blog, highlighting some of the favorite cars he encountered, and what made them interesting or valuable to his project. Ish surprised himself by how much time he ended up spending at the garage, some days from 8:00 AM until 5:00 PM, without missing any days, even with a busy after-school schedule. It was an incredibly positive experience, and Ish would recommend a hands-on project like his to other seniors at Pingry. “Overall, my ISP experience was above and beyond what I could have expected, and I learned so much more than I anticipated due to how much time and liberty I had to actually work on cars myself in the shop. My recommendation to next year’s seniors is to be ambitious and creative with your choice, and really use the time to do something you like to do, as there is always time for resume-boosting internships and such later on.”

Mary Nussbaumer

Class of 2018

The idea for Mary’s Independent Senior Project (ISP) was sparked by a global programs course to Bears Ears National Monument in Utah over Spring Break in 2017, where she first  learned about land use issues affecting the region. After this experience, Mary was determined to become active in public land protection efforts, and was inspired, together with two of her classmates and fellow Utah trip participants—Alexis Kinney '18 and Jack Proudfoot '18—to develop a combined ISP. This joint venture took the group of three out West again, this time to study Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a World Heritage Site in New Mexico, commonly referred to as Chaco Canyon.

With the help of their mentor, Upper School history teacher and Director of Experiential Education Mr. John Crowley-Delman ’97, Mary and her classmates selected Chaco Canyon, which is host to many ancient Native American ruins, because, like Bears Ears, it faces similar land use controversies. Mary researched the history of the region and investigated current issues it faces, including disputes involving the Greater Chaco Region, which lies outside of the protected Chaco Canyon and is being considered for oil and gas drilling. The trio spent time visiting different locations in the region (including Zuni Pueblo, home of the indigenous Zuni tribe, and Bandelier National Monument, another area famous for its Ancestral Puebloan ruins and art), speaking to visitors and locals, and making observations of their own to help answer the pressing question they had formulated to guide their ISP: Why is it so important to protect the Greater Chaco Region?

By the project’s conclusion, Mary was able to offer answers to this question, and create lasting memories alongside two classmates. Thinking back to the time spent on her project, Mary reflects, “My ISP was also an opportunity to spend time in a beautiful and unique outdoor setting while learning through experience. Through my short time in Santa Fe, I saw real-life examples of tensions within the Native American community. This is another piece of the land usage controversy, but it was something that I would not have truly understood without my real-life experience there. My ISP was an experience that I will never forget. I got an opportunity to travel to an amazing place and further explore passions that I discovered during my Pingry career.”