Senior Projects at Ashley Hall
Senior Project at Ashley Hall is one of the school’s most distinguished programs. This student-directed, year-long class is a synthesis of intense research, critical thinking, and targeted community outreach allowing students to delve deeper into a specific topic of interest. Selected through a competitive application process the prior spring, Senior Project girls begin researching their proposed topic over the summer months. This research then fuels their work over the course of the school year as the projects evolve. During April of the following year, the girls present their Senior Project research findings to the Upper School student body along with other distinguished guests.
Highlight of the Year | Ronald McDonald House Outreach Activity
An important component of Ashley Hall Senior Project is the incorporation of the greater Charleston community in meaningful ways. Therefore, each project included a community outreach element. A highlight of Senior Project Presentation Day included an outreach activity set up in Davies Auditorium on campus in support of the Charleston area Ronald McDonald House. The genesis of this idea began with Abigail Hamilton’s project work and provided lunches for families staying in the Ronald McDonald House as well as those who have family members in the Intensive Care Unit at the Medical University of South Carolina in downtown Charleston. Students decorated paper lunch bags, packed the bags with well-rounded and nutritious lunches, and composed encouraging letters to families. Abigail raised funds to provide some of the items in the bags, while Chef Kelsey and our school food provider, Flik, generously donated a large portion of the supplies used. These lunch bags were donated on behalf of Ashley Hall, Flik Independent School Dining, and the Senior Project Class. Thank you to all who helped!
2018 Senior Projects
From the plastic bottle breaking down in the waves of the Charleston Harbor, to the plastic fork floating in the Hong Kong mangroves, we are all ultimately threatened by plastic pollution that is contaminating the planet’s original source of life: the oceans. We are experiencing a plastics epidemic. As a society we seem to value the convenience of disposability more than the health of our own oceans. Plastic pollution is now reaching crisis levels and ultimately threatens all life in the seas. While every country may be guilty of contributing to the level of plastic pollution in our oceans, one of the top ‘ocean polluting’ countries is China. As a rapidly developing nation, China is industrializing and thriving economically. Nonetheless,the pollution that accompanies this indisputable growth begs the question, are we really becoming more advanced, or are we regressing with our lack of responsibility to the oceans? I focused my essential research around the questions: “How did we get to this position?” and “What do we do now?” Throughout my year-long research I analyzed the history, government, culture, and education that contributed to our current state of disaster with plastic marine debris. We are facing a paradox: Are we really becoming a more advanced society with plastics?
The lights are dimmed. The curtain is raised. All eyes are on the stage; eyes belonging to people of all races and all backgrounds are galvanized by the art that is a musical performance. Music has a unique tendency to acquaint the unacquainted and to unite the previously divided, yet its powers are not always universally recognized. I feel music has tremendous healing powers, and while there is a lesser known understanding of this, I am certain a strong connection between music and the alleviation of racial division exists. My conviction was amplified as a result of the Mother Emanuel AME Church tragedy in Charleston during which the lives of nine innocents were ripped from this world by the sinister hands of discrimination. Singing in harmony with complete strangers outside of Mother Emanuel and feeling the tears of a distraught community fall to the ground allowed me to observe the very palpable connection between music and the mitigation of racial tension. Through the course of my project, I hoped to help build visible bridges between racially divided communities via the extraordinary healing power of music by psychologically relating the study of racism and the mind with that of music and the mind. Music is the glue that binds us as a unified culture. When the curtain closes and reality sets in “we turn to music, we need it, because of its ability to move us, to induce feelings and moods, [and] states of mind” lest we run the risk of further racial discrimination.
In the Charleston area 34 new people arrive every single day. As our population grows and takes up space, there will be less and less land available for agriculture. Without innovations in farming, Charlestonians and humanity in general will face a looming problem: food waste taking up valuable space in landfills. The goal of my project is to educate others on the consequences of not keeping food waste out of landfills, and the benefits that their food waste can provide towards the innovation and development of better farming practices for the future. It is only through careful attention to the Earth’s ecosystems and limitations, a promise towards sustainable agriculture, and innovations in farming that we can establish the science of feeding our growing population. My project will culminate with a collaborative event with the West Ashley Farmers Market on April 25, 2018. I will be set up with the Compost Rangers in the middle of the market, talking about my project to whomever is interested. I will also be overseeing the waste management of the event and will have volunteers watching over the trash, recycling, and compost bins. When the event is over, I will donate all of the food waste collected that day to the Bees Ferry Composting Facility, where they will turn it into compost that the Charleston community can use in a variety of ways. I want to bring awareness to the impacts of food waste in our community, and I believe that by bringing Charleston’s attention to these issues we can set our minds towards improving our green practices, and one day reach the goal of a healthy, sustainable future.
Beyond genetic factors, the environments in which children are raised greatly impact their development. Whether children eat healthily or engage in physical activity can determine the extent to which they develop cognitive functions. These functioning capabilities have been shown to influence the development of motor skills, academic performance, and other abilities that can distinguish levels of success and executive function. With steadily increasing childhood obesity rates and sedentary lifestyles–not only in Charleston but also across the U.S.– it is more important than ever for there to be a greater understanding of the importance of physical activity. Both athletics and nutrition have played a large role in my life and have contributed largely to the person I am today. This drove me to explore both the social and scientific implications of exposure to these fields in a child’s developmental years. As these athletic and nutritional opportunities do not exist for all students, I investigated how the absence of sports and physical activity impact the development of children, and learned through outreach to children from underserved schools how I could better make a difference within their communities. Working with several schools, I developed a series of clinics with the purpose of exposing girls to a new sport, lacrosse, with the goal of promoting physical activity, healthy lifestyles, and valuable lessons including communication, teamwork, and collaboration.
About 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. This disease has been recorded in our medical history since early Egyptian times, yet we are still in the battle for a cure. This is due to the fact that while we are constantly advancing in prevention and treatment, the disease is, unfortunately, also evolving. In order to fully understand breast cancer one must look back in history to understand just how far science and human understanding have progressed. My research project focused on the history of cancer, from 3000 BC to the current day, as well as the issue of prevention versus cure and the advantages/disadvantages of each. I aimed to gain a better understanding of what is currently happening in the scientific world in terms of breast cancer to educate myself and those around me. I partnered with the Ronald McDonald House and became involved with “On-The-Go Meal Kits”– a unique project that allows families in the House to focus on what is important, rather than on how or where they are going to get lunch. Through this project I gained a better understanding of a disease that is so prevalent in our society and tried to help people in the community struggling with their own situations caused by cancer.
While many of us can recognize and agree there is a social stigma regarding mental illness in our culture, what many do not recognize is there are also internalized flaws within the mental health field and within mental health institutions. Although the variety of treatments for mental health issues are increasing and more medications are being developed, there remain serious, flawed underlying issues within the mental health field. Through my research, I explored and shed light on the corruption and flaws in this nation’s mental health care system. I also examined the role that social stigma, shame, and disgrace play in the lives of so many who face mental health issues.
I will never forget the day I met Baby Faith. This eight-month-old, chubby-cheeked child was abandoned by her mother and placed in a foster home. Seeing Faith entrusted to her compassionate foster mother, who is also a mentor of mine, was heartwarming but also made me realize how easily the situation could have taken a turn for the worst. This passion and love for children manifested itself into a curiosity and desire to make a change in a somewhat broken community. Thus, for my year-long Senior Project, I investigated the foster care system because although there are many success stories, there are also many tragic ones. Researching opposing viewpoints of topics within foster care has prompted me to create a foundation called Fostering Love. The organization aims to provide handmade blankets to foster children in the Lowcountry, as an attempt to give them one item they can hold onto no matter where life takes them. I have also partnered with Lifeline Children’s Ministries, a foundation that mentors families in foster care and adoption, and have raised roughly $2,000.00 for them via an in-home, pop-up, retail show.
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the world. As of 2017, one in ten people, age 65 or older, has Alzheimer’s disease. As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, individuals may experience changes in personality and behavior, such as anxiety, suspiciousness, or agitation, as well as delusions or hallucinations. Although the disease is frighteningly common, surprisingly little is known about it in either the medical community or in society, at large. Leading research suggests that Alzheimer’s is structurally attributed to amyloid beta protein and tau protein tangles, which can block neuronal signalling, thus resulting in decreased brain function. However, what causes these tangles and proteins to form, remains a mystery. Many researchers attribute the condition to personal diet and how individuals treat their bodies. With my research, I collaborated with the Alzheimer’s Association to inform children in elementary schools in the Lowcountry about how Alzheimer’s develops and how they can make changes in their lives to stay healthy. Throughout my project I worked on understanding the physical and mental effects of Alzheimer’s disease and what we, as younger people, can do to prevent Alzheimer’s.
Zika is a epidemic that has affected three to four million people in 52 countries. The virus, which has to date most severely impacted Brazil, has seen limited spread in the United States; consequently, a lack of understanding of the gravity of this disease seems epidemic in the United States, and reaction to the Zika virus in our country has been minimal. This “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” mentality is exactly what I have tried to address through my senior project, as I believe our nation’s nonchalance and failure to act at present may put our populace in severe danger in the future. Despite the efforts that have been made in order to impede the spread of Zika– preventative measures such as mosquito pesticides, genetically modified mosquitoes, and awareness campaigns– there is yet to be a vaccine. I researched the epidemiology of the Zika virus in depth and focused on the virus’s economic and social impact in Brazil in hopes of gleaning valuable information that could help shed light on what a major Zika outbreak would look like in the United States, what its ramifications would be, and how such an outbreak might be prevented. Through my research I hoped to inform our Ashley Hall community both about the devastating effects of this disease, as well as about the progress we have made in combating Zika and the work that remains to be done.