Lucas Monserrat '17, Obi Nnaeto '18, and Shea Smith '18 are just three of more than two dozen college athletes using the Greig Center over their winter break to stay in shape.
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 service 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.
- Increase their self confidence
- Develop New Skills
- Gain Real-World Experience
- Follow their dreams
- Develop Time Management Skills
- Learn From their Mistakes
- Make Valuable Connections
The four years of high school are, unquestionably, a busy time for students. Reserving the final five weeks of their senior year as a time to explore a passion that they never before had the time to pursue is a unique opportunity. The memories from these projects are indelible and provide a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment.
ISP students typically spend 25 hours a week on their projects, equipping them with ample time for in-depth learning and insights from experienced professionals. Often, students stay in touch with the people they have met during the course of their projects and continuing receiving their valuable guidance in the future.
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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, 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
The company, Living Plate, aims to help individuals build long-term healthier lifestyles starting with a nutritious diet. In her role as an intern, Charlotte wore many hats and helped out wherever she was needed, from answering client questions by phone to participating in corporate presentations in the field. Her internship also taught her about important business functions, including marketing, operations, and strategy.
Not every day was the same and while one day Charlotte was sifting through healthy recipes to test-cook and modify, another day she was busy writing up nutritional protocols. One of her ISP highlights included her final project deliverable - crafting small recipe videos modeled after Buzzfeed “Tasty” videos. Charlotte enjoyed getting to know her co-workers and helping clients develop long-term eating habits. In the end she learned about the day-to-day life working at a small business while also improving her knowledge of cooking and nutrition.
Modeled after the popular photoblog, Humans of New York, which provides daily glimpses into the lives of individuals encountered on the streets of New York, Humans of Pingry showcases the stories, struggles, and dreams of different members of the Pingry community. Connor’s project included a blog on Facebook and Instagram, which he updated daily with photos and interviews, as well as a 122-page hardcover book, which can be viewed in the Admission Office.
Connor’s long-standing love of photography began in the first grade, when he received a camera for Christmas. Back then, he enjoyed taking snapshots and recording the world around him. Little did he realize that years later, his passion for photography would be the driving force behind his Independent Senior Project. One day during his freshman year at Pingry, Connor had a realization, which led to the idea for Humans of Pingry: “Although I went to school with over 500 students, I saw almost all of them as cardboard cutouts. I passed so many people in the hallways and never knew what was happening in their lives. They didn’t seem human to me, as much as one-dimensional characters.”
Fast-forward to his senior year, and Connor’s project idea materialized as he began taking photos and conducting interviews with students, teachers, coaches, member of the Dining and Facilities staff, and others around campus. With the guidance of his ISP mentors at Pingry, Connor developed a detailed project plan and timeline. Despite some unexpected challenges, he was successful in publishing his book and keeping his blogs updated with fresh content. Reflecting on his ISP, Connor shares, “I felt it was valuable in allowing me to get to know the community. I’ve gotten to learn all about Pingrians' struggles, stories, and their role models. It has been an incredibly enlightening experience that has made me feel closer to the school.”
Each morning of her ISP, Sonia would commute into New York City (which, she learned, can be exhausting!) to begin her day at 9:30 a.m. In addition to answering phone calls and finding referrals for callers in need, Sonia was responsible for creating documents (“backgrounders”) on congressmen detailing their voting records and positions on certain issues related to women. Most of Sonia’s projects fell under the umbrella of VAWA (Violence Against Women Act).
Sonia has some helpful advice for future seniors considering an internship like hers: “I must warn that this internship was at times both mentally and physically draining. Some of the material is heavy. For example, when taking a helpline call, you may get a person who is being abused and needs help, but you have to maintain your composure.” The experience was nevertheless an eye-opening one, and taught her a lot about current events in the scope of women’s rights. Reflecting on her ISP at NOW, Sonia adds, “The internship was also very meaningful in that I was no longer a bystander. It was very rewarding to know that I was going into an office every day to better women's roles in society."
Miles worked alongside Chris, who was a musician in Pingry’s Jazz Ensemble. Chris taught Miles new skills, such as how to adjust his vocals and use online tools to produce music. Miles considers these hands-on lessons invaluable as an artist. “One very important thing I learned is the production side of music. When I was writing raps prior to the ISP, I would record and then Chris would do all of the production. Through our work together at school on the ISP, I was able to watch him and learn to produce music, which made me more independent.”
In offering up advice to Pingry students considering their own ISPs, Miles recommends that seniors do something they truly enjoy. “If you do an ISP on something that doesn’t interest you, it will be a really long month. However, if you find something that you really love doing, the time will fly by.