Seniors showcase academic dexterity

With insightful senior projects
Fri, 05/12/2017 - 11:00am

A child’s brain development, drug addiction, the challenges of immigration, student loan debt, and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution; those were the subjects explored in the Block Island School’s senior projects this year. 

Senior class members Yenifer Barillas, Violet Brown, Bridgette Keane, Silas Monje and Barbara Trujillo displayed confidence, high levels of intelligence and acuity, combined with salesmanship in showcasing their projects to the public at the school on May 2. Nancy Greenaway and Joanne Warfel oversee the senior projects program at the school.

Yenifer Barillas, who is from Guatemala, said she knows firsthand how difficult it is to become a citizen of the United States. For her project, entitled “The Road to U.S. Citizenship,” Barillas, whose mentor is attorney Dyann Del Vecchio Hilbern, an immigration law specialist, created a simplified method designed to inform people about the process involved in obtaining citizenship in the United States. 

In her thesis, Barillas wrote about the “terrible” and “sad” living conditions in the countries of Central America. “You can not find help, not from society much less the government itself, so people make the difficult decision to take the dangerous journey and look for the American dream.”

Barillas said that the challenges associated with immigration inspired her to write her senior project about the subject. “It inspired me because I am an immigrant,” she said. “It is not an easy process. I want to let people know about it. And I really want to learn more about immigration laws in the United States.”

“The law is changing in the United States every day,” said Barillas, who will begin studying law at the Community College of Rhode Island this fall. “People are looking for lawyers to represent them with their cases.”

Violet Brown interned for two years in the Block Island School kindergarten class. That’s why the subject of her senior project, entitled “Children’s Brain Development,” focuses on the formative years of young children, and how positivity impacts a child’s development. “I loved being able to research this subject,” said Brown, whose mentor is Victoria Carson. “It’s a topic that I’m pretty passionate about.”

Brown said that the function of her project is “to inform people about the power of positivity for children.” She also said “it is important to teach (children) to become aware of appropriate behaviors. And to show that redirection and support can make all the difference in (a child’s) development.”

Brown researched different parts of the brain, in particular the hippocampus, located in the central portion of the brain, and noted that it plays a pivotal role in learning. “Brains are malleable” during the formative years, she said, noting that positive reinforcement as a teaching tool in the early years can help “pave the way for success” later in life.

Brown credits Carson with providing her with knowledge and assistance during her research with her project. Brown will be majoring in pre-elementary education at Eastern Connecticut State University, and has an interest in becoming a kindergarten teacher.

“My project research has provided me with techniques and strategies to be a good teacher,” she said. “I want to be a role model.”

Bridgette Keane showed her interest in the study of law with her project, called “The Continued Erosion of the Fourth Amendment.” She examined the Constitution and whether its power is being eroded by action from the federal government. Keane, who feels the Fourth Amendment has lost its power, created a PowerPoint presentation and a 15 page thesis, that began with the story of a police search and seizure gone wrong, which led to a 19 month old baby being injured.

In her thesis, Keane wrote “it is important that the citizens of the United States of America are aware of their Fourth Amendment rights, understand when they are violated, and take action to urge the government to protect those rights.” She also noted the first phrase of the amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

“For my project, I worked with (mentor) New Shoreham Police Chief Vincent Carlone to study the application of the Fourth Amendment throughout the United States’ history and its modern application,” said Keane. “Through my research and discussion with Chief Carlone, I supported my thesis that the Fourth Amendment is being eroded due to various court precedents and laws that have been passed. I believe that it is important that the citizens of America know how their Fourth Amendment rights are not being protected and that people consider urging the government to protect those rights.”

Keane, who said she hasn’t declared her major, will be attending Duke University in the fall. “I am undeclared for now, but I plan on looking into the different science majors offered at Duke, and I am interested in attending law school after undergrad.”

Silas Monje said two notable things when he presented his senior project: “I definitely want to be a doctor. I love science.” That’s why it was fitting that his project is entitled “Use and Availability of Narcan,” and that he presented it from inside a Block Island Rescue Squad ambulance.

Monje, who began working on the Fire and Rescue Squad at age 16, and has interned at the Block Island Medical Center, said he wants “to inform the community about the use of Narcan,” a drug which inhibits the effects of opioid medication, and is used to treat narcotic overdoses in emergency situations. “I have seen the problem firsthand,” he said, while noting his interest in researching the benefits of the drug.

As for wanting to be a doctor, Monje said that during his first day interning at the Medical Center he had confirmation that he was on the right path. That was when he blacked out while watching Dr. Mark Clark suture a woman’s foot. “A woman cut her heel on a boat propeller,” he explained, “and when I saw her heel bone I blacked out. Even after that I still wanted to pursue this as a career.”

Monje noted his fondness for Liz Dyer, who he said was his mentor due to her experience in the field of emergency medicine. He also credited Dr. Clark, a Brown University alumnus, who wrote a letter of recommendation in support of his application to Brown’s Medical School. A few months later, Monje learned that out of about 3,000 applicants he will be one of 100 medical students attending Brown’s Warren Alpert School of Medicine in the fall. “I feel incredibly blessed to have all of these opportunities,” he said.

Barbara Trujillo wrote the thesis for her senior project knowing that the subject could soon have an impact on her life. Trujillo’s project, entitled “Student Loan Debt,” details the problems associated with the burden of student loan debt, and offers some possible solutions. “It’s a problem,” she said, citing the high cost of attending college, and the lack of high-income jobs for a predominant number of graduates to pay off their student loans.

“My project raises awareness about the hardships caused by student loan debt on post-graduate lives,” said Trujillo, while noting that there are “alternative financial approaches,” including attendance of a more affordable community college program, as well as acquiring scholarships or financial aid. “It is a topic relevant to where I am in my life; about to attend college soon,” she said.  

Trujillo said that student loan debt can encumber a graduate’s economic well-being, hindering a person’s ability to purchase a home, and utilize their credit effectively. “There is an unforgiving nature to loans,” she said. “And they are a part of the college experience.”

Trujillo chose Barbara MacMullan as her mentor because of her financial background. “She is the Vice President of Washington Trust on the island, and is well versed in loans and loan services,” she said.

Despite the fact that her senior project focuses on economics, Trujillo said she has an interest in computer science, although she has not declared her major. She will be attending the University of Rhode Island in the fall.