Senior projects demonstrate wide range of interests

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 6:00pm

What does it take to put together the electrical system of a motorcycle? For that matter, what does it take to put together an entire motorcycle? Do you know the difference between a barber and a hair stylist? What goes into making a sweet smelling perfume?

These questions, and many more, were answered during Senior Project Day at the Block Island School. The interests of the students were so wide, coupled with the fact that there are 15 students in this year’s graduation class, the projects were spread out over two rooms and an outside lawn.

The school cafeteria was buzzing with fellow students, teachers with clipboards in their hands to assess the projects, and family members. Callum Crawford, father of senior Fiona Crawford, was getting his hair cut by senior Gerson Menendez. His mentor was local hairdresser Kinga Kaminska. Menendez displayed all the tools of his trade.

“A lot of people think they are the same,” he said of the confusion over hair stylist and barber. He said different training was required for each. “Barbers are trained for short hair, and a stylist is for long hair,” Menendez said. As for his plans after senior year, he said he wanted to “get a license and start a business. I felt I should work first and make some money.”

Speaking of work, senior Sawyer Milstead’s senior project looked at youth employment, its benefits and downsides. His mentor was Dan Cahill of the Yellow Kittens. He said he was attending Community College of Rhode Island, Newport, in the fall.

“Youth employment is very important and has a high impact on your life skills for the future,” he said. “When I started working, the benefits were that I was more independent. I was earning my own money. I was more self-reliant.” His project also included information on child labor laws and how they are designed to “keep kids safe.”

The downside of working at a young age is that it can increase stress, create some sense of childhood loss, and have a negative impact on school work, he said..

Senior Laura Johnson had a notebook full of beautiful drawings and sketches. Her project was about how drawing assists memory retention. Her book was filled with about 140 sketches of different subjects. Her mentor was artist Beverly Blacker and she plans on attending CCRI in the fall.

Johnson was working off the theory that simply taking a photograph or glancing at an object doesn’t have the same impact on the memory as drawing that object; details and color will stay with you longer.

Maya Veldman-Wilson was thinking about the future of Block Island when she put together her project, which posited the idea that Block Island’s firefighting capabilities are not adequate to tackle a major large-scale emergency. The fire department and its fleet should be scaled to handle an event that could impact up to 25,000 people — peak summer population.

Her project mentors were Capt. Kate McConville of the Rescue Squad and Facilities Manager Sam Bird. Veldman-Wilson plans on attending the University of New Hampshire in the fall.

“The equipment is scaled to about 1,000 or 1,500 people,” she said. “In the summer it could be so bad.” Her project included models of a new fire station design, and some proposals for the kind of equipment the island should have.

When asked why she chose this project, she said, “I wanted to do something that had a benefit to more than just myself.”

Just outside the cafeteria, on the lawn, was Reilly Hobe, in full firefighting gear, putting out a fire. When The Block Island Times caught up with Hobe later, he said his project was focused on the behavior of fire. He called this a “doll house burn,” in which the small wooden structure he was demonstrating with would fully replicate the behavior of fire and smoke in a larger building.

His mentor was Fire Chief Mike Ernst. Hobe said he plans on becoming a firefighter.

“You can read the smoke and find the seat of the fire,” said Hobe. In smoke, he said, you check for “color, velocity and density.” The primary dangers a firefighter is looking out for are flashovers and backdrafts, both of which can be deadly.

In a flashover, a fire can spread instantly, and a backdraft occurs when a fire that has been starved of oxygen suddenly has access to a new supply.

The doll house burn was designed to capture and respond to these behaviors.

Andrew McGarry was inside the cafeteria demonstrating an altogether different firefighting technique: the Halligan tool. This metal tool was designed by a New York City firefighter in the late 1940s and has been in use ever since.

McGarry’s mentor was Lars Trodson and he is planning to work during the upcoming year.

McGarry’s presentation included a history of the tool, a profile of its inventor, as well as a video demonstrating its use during a rescue. McGarry expertly described the design elements of the tool, and their uses. (He’s also a Block Island Fire Department volunteer, as is Hobe.)

He said the New York City Fire Department was initially reluctant to purchase the tool from one of its own employees due to a possible conflict of interest, but as more and more fire companies around the country started to buy them, it became the tool of choice, which it remains to this day.

There were two motorcycle projects in the 2019 mix. Seniors Jostin Blanco and Tyler Mack took two different approaches, however. Mack was looking at the overall design and assembly which, for him, also had a practical application as he was learning how to repair his own bike. Blanco was looking at the Café-Racer Electrical System performance, during which he explained the intricacies of the system, through a series of printed cards and a video. Blanco’s mentor was John Warfel. Mack’s mentor was a mechanic working on the island who had to leave mid-project. Both Mack and Blanco are taking a year off.

Senior David Barillas had something decidedly more serious on his mind: the Second Amendment. His mentor was Police Chief Vin Carlone and he plans on attending CCRI in the fall.

The amendment, which includes some of the most debated language in the entire United States Constitution, provides for the individual right to keep and bear arms.

But Barillas was also looking at the issue from a mass shooting perspective, and he had compiled a list of those shootings, saying that there had been 4,522 deaths by shooting so far in 2019. “We as a people don’t need this,” he said.

Mary Conant’s project was sprawled out over two tables and included a variety of animal parts, including a large, dissected cow’s heart. Her mentor was Dr. Sue Gibbons and she plans on attending Holy Cross in the fall to study pre-med.

Conant’s thesis was that the process of dissecting a cadaver was essential to understanding how the body works and how it is put together. Conant’s presentation included the medical and research benefits of dissection, as well as anatomical charts.

Senior Fiona Crawford was looking at a serious medical issue: concussions. The fairly recent discussion about concussions has proved to show how serious they can be, which Crawford was also examining. Her mentor was Allison Warfel and she is planning on attending Springfield College.

“Lack of proper diagnosis can also lead to long-term consequences,” Crawford said. She included a survey in her presentation asking a variety of questions, including asking just what a concussion is and how they should be treated. Crawford said there has been an historic tendency, in school and professional sports, to minimize the effects of a concussion to get a player back in the game, particularly if it was a star player.

She had a direct answer for anyone who thinks they may have gotten a concussion during a game: “Don’t go back in!”

Julia Gasner was also promoting better health by introducing yoga to kids at an early age. Titled “The Importance of Yoga,” her presentation detailed the many benefits, including its importance as “a stress reliever” and, for younger people, as a way to reduce “school pressure.” Gasner’s project presentation included photos of her teaching classes to the younger kids that she has introduced the discipline to.

Her mentor was Library Director Kristin Baumann and she plans on attending St. Lawrence University in the fall for either environmental studies or psychology.

Julia Butcher’s project was a little on the sweet side. Arrayed in front of her were 10 different bottles each containing a perfume that she had created. She was exploring the science behind these creations and the different kinds of “notes” a perfume should hit to make it a perfect blend.

Butcher’s mentor was Johanna Ross and she plans on attending Stetson University in Florida to study business management.

In fact, her presentation was not just an intellectual exercise, she was also promoting her own company, the Island Fragrance Company. (

Luke Brown was also after something pleasing: original song compositions that he compiled into a debut album called “Wings.” He issued the release under the name of Lokie — something a little more distinctive, he said, than his birth name. His project detailed the process of writing the songs and producing the album.

He was also selling a few CDs.

Brown’s mentor was music teacher Noah Denton and he is planning on studying musical composition at Roanoke College in the fall.