Northwood students share research

Northwood School senior Jordan Shullenberger, left, presents his research project on hooliganism in English football to John Spear, assistant head of school for student life, at Northwood’s student symposium on Thursday. (Enterprise photo — Sydney Emerson)

LAKE PLACID — A group of 36 Northwood School juniors and seniors presented their independent research to classmates, teachers, family and the public at Northwood’s student symposium on Thursday.

The research projects are the results of the private school’s advanced STEM and humanities research programs, where students apply with their own research proposals and spend the majority of the school year experimenting and studying their subjects of choice.

“A lot of kids end up using the work they did for their college applications, their college essays, that kind of stuff,” said Jill Walker, director of the advanced STEM research program. “It really is something to make them stand out as having a unique interest and not just ‘I took all these AP classes.'”

Project topics are as varied and unique as the students, Walker said. The program, which has been in place for about four years, places a big emphasis on free inquiry and community partnerships. This year, a group of seven students partnered with the Trudeau Institute to do research on antigens and antibodies — that is, markers that trigger the immune system and proteins that counteract antigens. They received credit through Paul Smith’s College for their work.

“I was interested because of COVID, and it was so big that I wanted to know a little bit more about the vaccine and the antigen process and how everything worked with that,” Northwood senior Maegan Byrne said.

Northwood School student Maegan Byrne poses next to her project poster, “Immune Response to Foreign Antigens,” at Northwood’s student symposium on Thursday. (Enterprise photo — Sydney Emerson)

Alongside their research, Byrne’s group also developed a set of 3D-printed antigen and antibody replicas that can serve as visual aids for biology teachers. Byrne, who plans to attend Elon University for pre-med after graduation, said that she initially found the prospect of independent research “scary.”

“It was kind of hard to manage my time and figure out what I needed to do to complete things by a certain time period,” she said. “Once we got into the project, I was able to manage it a little bit more.”

This is by design, Walker said — students often struggle when they first strike out on their own.

“It’s the first time that they really have to think for themselves,” she said. “So much of high school is regurgitation. With this, the students struggle and sometimes it fails.”

Reid Jewett Smith, who teaches the humanities course, said that independent research opens up a new way of thinking to the students.

Northwood School student Ashley Guevara presents her research projects at Northwood’s student symposium on Thursday. Guevara opted to complete two projects, one in STEM and one in humanities. (Enterprise photo — Sydney Emerson)

“You start from nothing and build something, and then are creating new knowledge. I find that to be a very compelling idea,” she said.

Jewett Smith, who has a Ph.D. in education policy, had previously only taught this class to graduate students. She said she didn’t have to alter the course much for Northwood students.

“If anything, I sort of take more of the wheels off. It’s so impressive what they do,” she said.

This year, she was particularly impressed by the students, who had to complete the final three weeks of their projects by themselves while she was unexpectedly ill.

“I haven’t been here for three weeks and these kids have completed this class entirely on their own. I walked in the doors and almost burst into tears because I was like, ‘Holy s**t, they just did this,'” she said. “That independence piece actually suggests to me that, when you take the training wheels off after having the right guard rails, they’re able to maybe even do more.”

Among her students was senior Jordan Shullenberger, a soccer player and fan who’s planning to go to the University at Albany in the fall. His project examined the social contagion of hooliganism — the violent behavior of some English football, meaning soccer, fans — and was inspired by his own love of the sport.

“A lot of people are passionate about (soccer) just like me, and that’s what caused hooliganism: Passionate people about (soccer) and the transmission of anger and violence,” he said.

Shullenberger took a sprawling approach to his research, studying policing measures at major soccer events, the psychology of hooliganism, UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s time in office and the Hillsborough Disaster, a 1989 crowd-crush incident at a Liverpool and Nottingham Forest match that claimed 97 victims.

He concluded that feelings are more contagious than people assume.

“People can transmit any sort of feeling, whether it be violence, anger, it can be depression even, sadness,” he said. “If we can somehow, as a society, as a world, help defeat the transmission of bad emotions and negative energy from one person to another, we can solve a lot of problems.”

Independent research is about so much more than bolstering college applications, Jewett Smith said — it mimics the challenges students will have to face in adult life.

“(It’s) coming to know about the world and that the information isn’t given to you, but you’re there to set out with a set of problems and then figure out the answers,” she said. “They have to invent new knowledge on their own and that, to me, is the biggest, most radical thing that they will take onto the next steps.”


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