Choices reflect a wide variety of interests

By Matt Taylor

As another group of Liberty Bell High School students prepares to graduate, a new batch of senior projects nears completion.

Each year, all seniors are required to complete a project on a topic of their choosing, which includes a community service element, a research paper and a presentation. For many, it is a chance to study and engage a topic which reflects their interests and passions.

This year, students engaged a wide variety of projects — ranging from the development of a comprehensive business plan for a theoretical backpack company to the construction of habitat for native bee populations. Other students brought the projects closer to home, working on more personally impactful projects such as researching the development of the teenage brain, and examining how that development impacts teenage behaviors.

Backpack company

“I’ve always been interested in business,” said Eli Nielsen, describing the beginnings of his instincts for business — selling marshmallow sticks to tourists in Stehekin as a young kid.

Nielsen’s project emulated the creation of a theoretical business start up, following a product from conception to sales. The business, a backpack company, reflected Nielsen’s long-held passion for the outdoors.

“I’ve always been into the outdoors and interested in packs,” said Nielsen. There’s also a significant market in backpacks. Backpack sales in the United States alone last year netted $1.6 billion, according to a report cited by Nielsen.

“The outdoor industry is growing. More and more people are going into the mountains,” said Nielsen. The question became, “how does my pack fit into this industry?”

Throughout the course of the project, he created three prototypes. Each improved on the last, and by the end of the year, he ended up with a dual-color, professional-appearing pack, made from scratch.

The project also involved a comprehensive five-year plan, which included a number of in-depth details, ranging  from how he would deal with local taxes, to when he would likely outsource the production of his pack to a third-party manufacturer.

“It was tough because there were so many variables,” Nielsen said, especially with a theoretical business.

“But I can see where this has potential,” he said. “That was really fun to see.”

Nielsen will continue his education next fall at Montana State University, where he will compete on the university’s Nordic ski team.

Mason bees

Logan Butler, a beekeeper since childhood and self-described environmentalist, focused her project on the creation of habitat for mason bees, a native pollinator. Her project covered two parts, both physically building the habitats and raising awareness of the importance of these pollinators.

“It was the perfect project for me,” said Butler, “I got to build mason bees a safe habitat where they can lay their young, and I got to teach kids about the bees’ presence and importance in our ecosystem.”

The habitats were relatively simple structures, consisting of boxes filled with branches, twigs and small pipes in which the bees can live and lay their young.

Raising awareness “was definitely the most rewarding part,” said Butler.

“I wanted to support this species’ population so I researched ways to build them a healthy habitat in a way that any average Joe could partake in,” she said. “[Building habitats] can be very affordable and simple. It’s as easy as drilling holes into a 6-inch deep piece of wood and hanging it out on a post outside.”

She worked with a local fifth-grade class, talking to them about the native pollinators and taking them out to visit the boxes to teach them how to maintain the boxes in the future.

“The kids were super inquisitive and excited about my project and want nothing more than to help me with my goals,” said Butler.

Butler will attend Washington State University’s Honors College in the fall, where she plans to study pre­veterinary medicine.

Teenage brain

Cade Quigley’s project centered around studying and dispelling misconceptions surrounding the changing neurobiology of the adolescent brain.

“It’s just a fancy way of saying what is changing in the brain during the teenage years,” said Quigley.

He was primarily inspired by his personal experiences and frustrated by the misconceptions that seem to consistently accompany teenage behavior.

“I wanted to know what was going on in my brain,” said Quigley.

“I was always told I would have to survive my teenage years,” he said, “It’s not a good way to look at teenagehood … there’s a lot of power and purpose in being a teenager.”

The research was primarily based on the book “Brainstorm,” by Daniel Siegel. The findings included insights into changing neurological connections, the rise in prevalence in different hormones, and how boys and girls develop differently throughout these turbulent years.

The research led him to an important conclusion: these changes are to be embraced, rather than endured.

“The teenage years should be a time to prosper instead of survive,” said Quigley. Overall, “I wanted to improve the teenager experience in school.”

According to a report cited by Quigley, only 22 percent of Liberty Bell students enjoy school. A shocking 33 percent reported depressive or suicidal thoughts, a number which is 13 percent higher than the national average. By improving students’ and parents’ knowledge of the teenage brain, Quigley hopes to improve upon these statistics.

To that end, Quigley has been giving 45-minute presentations to each class in the school. So far, he has presented to over 170 students and a large group of community members, teaching attendees about the changes that are occurring and how to manage them in a healthy way.

Quigley will be attending Colorado College in Colorado Springs starting this fall, where he is considering studying psychology.