This spring, 18 RCDS juniors and seniors completed 21 independent study projects. The student-defined and student-directed projects spanned a variety of topics and demonstrated outstanding skills in research, interdisciplinary thinking, and project development and management among juniors and seniors. To help students define their goals and expectations for their projects and develop their course of study, Independent Study proposals are reviewed and approved by the Independent/Guided Study Committee. From there, students work under the supervision of RCDS faculty members who are qualified in the relevant area of investigation.
Congratulations to the students and supervising faculty on this exciting accomplishment.
“Being a member of the Independent Study committee is a joy because I get to see first-hand the amazing work being done by students in all RCDS departments. The breadth of topics is astounding, and the projects illustrate the passion of our students as well as the expertise of our faculty.” — Dr. Mary Krasovec, Upper School Science Teacher
SPRING 2021 INDEPENDENT STUDY PROJECTS
Project Name: Iranian Foriegn Affairs Since the Start of the 20th Century
Student(s): Jahan Arjomand ’22 (Grade 11)
Faculty Advisor: Johnny Flynn, Humanities Department Chair
Brief Description of Project: In our Independent Study, Mr. Flynn and I explored Iranian political and economic history over the past century. The study was mainly conducted through the lens of foreign affairs and modernity. Iran’s relationship with the West and internal modernity has uniquely fluctuated throughout the time period. Information was provided from segments of books and articles. Our most used source was Encyclopedia Iranica, by Eshan Yarshater. The Encyclopedia contains a series of informative essays by academics from Columbia University on Iranian history. Throughout the study, I wrote several analytical essays on a variety of topics, such as a comparative analysis of Reza Shah and Mohammad Shah and the effect of Iran’s relationship with the West on Iran-Russian relations. In the second half of the semester, I examined Iran’s relationship with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Overall, as an Iranian-American, this Independent Study proved helped me develop a much stronger understanding of my nation’s recent history.
Project Name: The Role Art and Design Played in This Century’s Major Social Justice Movements
Student(s): Baker Charbonnet ’22 (Grade 11)
Faculty Advisor: Clemmie Everett, Upper School Humanities Teacher
Brief Description of Project: What started out as a deep dive into the role that art played in the further development of various social and political movements throughout the 20th century later transitioned into a contribution in planning a much more focused summer camp curriculum for the Rye Historical Society. After completing one unit and a subsequent paper on how Rose O’Neill was one of the women who laid the groundwork for womens’ suffrage, we made this shift because we did not have enough time to truly get into the detail we wanted in terms of how many social movements we wanted to address. So, I am working with Ms. Everett and an advisor from the Historical Society to put together a lesson for their Wars and Woodstock camp this summer where I will have a chance to present this research and passion to the kids. This allows me more time to research while still compiling a final project, so I have something beyond my first paper to show for the work we put in this semester!
Project Name: Astrophysics
Student(s): Allen Dong ’21 (Grade 12), Max Hines ’21 (Grade 12)
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Mary Krasovec, Upper School Science
Brief Description of Project: In our independent study, we explored all of the following topics to varying degrees of depth: Celestial Coordinates, Stellar Parallax, Special Relativity, Binary Stellar Systems, Stellar Classifications, Stellar Atmospheres and Heat Transfer, Stellar Interiors, Stellar Formation and Evolution, Stellar Remnants, General Relativity, and Black Holes. We worked through An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics (second edition). We were challenged by complex mathematical equations (some out of our reach) and advanced ideas with regards to the unique platform that is space. To wrap up the year, we created a presentation on the Life of Stars, a short but thorough presentation covering one of the more interesting and accessible topics we covered this year.
Project Name: Computing Hardware and Logic in Electronics
Student(s): Katie Farrell ’21 (Grade 12)
Faculty Advisor: Katie O’Shaughnessey, Computer Science Department Chair
Brief Description of Project: In my independent study, I aimed to develop a deeper understanding of how computers make logical decisions using circuits and transistors. My project started with the concept of a NAND gate, one of the simplest circuit components that can perform “logic” (return an output that is based on two inputs). Using Hardware Description Language to program simulated circuits, I attempted to use NANDs and other gates I had created to develop increasingly complicated computer components. Towards the end, I experimented with creating physical circuits on breadboards.
Project Name: Number Theory
Student(s): Henry Featherston ’22 (Grade 11)
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Tia Gueye, Mathematics Department Chair
Brief Description of Project: For the spring semester of 2021, I took Number Theory as an independent study in an attempt to expand my mathematical knowledge outside of RCDS’s core curriculum and to change the way that I think about math. With my faculty advisor, I worked through Matthew Crawford’s textbook The Art of Problem Solving: Introduction to Number Theory. Over the course of the semester, I built from my existing mathematical knowledge as I discovered new ways of approaching problems and new types of math that I had not previously been exposed to, such as base number arithmetic.
Project Name: Advanced Topics in Environmental Science (Sustainable Energy)
Student(s): Deepta Gupta ’21 (Grade 12)
Faculty Advisor: Craig Burt, Upper School Science Teacher
Brief Description of Project: In my independent study, I took a deep dive into the science, economics, and policy surrounding renewable energy sources and their current and potential impacts on the global population. We worked through MIT OpenCourseware’s Introduction to Sustainable Energy course. The course was split into three sections, of which we covered the first two. First, we learned about renewable energy in a historical context, studying the benefits of switching from dirty to clean energy by comparing efficiencies and net changes in energy output and emissions over time. Then, we looked at specific energy technologies, including nuclear power, photovoltaics, biofuels, and hydrogen fuel cells. For my final project, I wrote a research paper on nuclear energy that considers both the historical and modern facets of nuclear power, as well as the social and global implications of its use.
Project Name: Advanced Topics in Physics (Circuits)
Student(s): Deepta Gupta ’21 (Grade 12), Matt Harkness ’21 (Grade 12)
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Mary Krasovec, Upper School Science Teacher
Brief Description of Project: In our independent study, we explored how circuits can be used to perform useful functions, such as computing. We worked through MIT OpenCourseware’s Circuits and Electronics course. We built upon the circuits that we learned in AP Physics C last year by studying additional components that allowed for the implementation of logic. We learned about how adding these components influences the relationships between voltage and current at different points in circuits through more advanced circuit analysis techniques. We also started to build logic gates and more advanced circuits.
Project Name: Musical Theatre
Student(s): Haley Herman ’21 (Grade 12)
Faculty Advisor: Mary Marcell, Music Department Chair
Brief Description of Project: My advanced study in musical theatre included project- and study-based components. The first project was producing and directing a 10-minute musical. I prepared cuts of my script and held virtual auditions, cast the show, and created a rehearsal schedule. While my initial idea was to have the musical be “hybrid” (in-person and online), I eventually opted to have it be entirely online and filmed. We rehearsed via Zoom, and by looking at this strange way of performing as a creative challenge, I was able to actually enjoy coming up with new ways to stage the show. After the musical, I explored the learning side of theatre, as the student instead of the director. Using the SkillShare 9 Acting Techniques Class, the SkillShare 10 Hour Acting Masterclass, and the Coursera Intro to Performance Studies, I created a mini curriculum to learn about different types of acting techniques and performances. For my last project, I was the performer. I chose my favorite musical theatre songs from my book, analyzed the lyrics, and practiced using the techniques I learned. I performed one of these songs at the Music Department Cabaret.
Project Name: Modern Hebrew 4
Student(s): Max Hines ’21 (Grade 12)
Faculty Advisor: Eric Drotch, Art Department Chair
Brief Description of Project: This was the final semester of my two-year foray into learning Modern Hebrew. We finished working through the lengthy Brandeis Modern Hebrew textbook, a classic for beginning Hebrew speakers. We also began the Brandeis Modern Hebrew: Intermediate to Advanced textbook towards the end of the semester, which increased the difficulty but also exposed me to far more vocabulary and grammatical structures. In addition, we read many picture books in Hebrew, such as Chanan HaGanan, Shanah Im Shani, and Shluli, along with watching Hebrew-language programming such as Srugim. I also wrote a paper as a culminating project, providing a window, in Hebrew, into different parts of my life.
Project Name: Modern Hebrew 2
Student(s): Phoebe Shapiro ’12 (Grade 12)
Faculty Advisor: Eric Drotch, Art Department Chair
Brief Description of Project: In the second semester of my junior year, I started studying Hebrew with Mr. Drotch. I learned new vocabulary, and we began having conversations in Hebrew during our class. We mainly worked through the textbook Brandeis Modern Hebrew. Some days we would watch Hebrew TV shows, listen to Hebrew music, or read Hebrew picture books. At the end of the project, I produced an autobiographical essay about various aspects of my life, applying everything I have learned over the past two years.
Project Name: Black Feminism and Ecofeminism
Student(s): Greyson Humphrey '21 (Grade 12)
Faculty Advisor: Rebecca Drago, Director of Public Purpose
Brief Description of Project: I studied literary and artistic works in the discipline of Black Feminism alongside Ms. Drago. My research introduced me essays, such as Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins; past and contemporary poetry, including The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde; and the autobiography Redefining Realness by Black writer, artist, and transgender woman Janet Mock. Learning about the experiences of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, ability, and spirituality through the framework of Black Feminism has given me a greater understanding of the beauty and hardships of life, particularly Black life, and what we as caring, empathetic people can do to ameliorate life for all people. After reading the collection of essays Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism, I was inspired to study Ecofeminism. Much like Black Feminism, Ecofeminism is a living, breathing ideology that is concerned with the liberation of all living things, including our Earth, the creatures who roam her, and the plants who grow from her.
Project Name: Poker Math and Game Theory
Student(s): Nolan James ’22 (Grade 11)
Faculty Advisor: David Yellen, Upper School Mathematics Teacher
Brief Description of Project: During my one-semester independent study on the math and game theory behind Texas Hold’em Poker, I read through two books with the goal of determining whether Poker is more based on skill or luck. While researching the topic, I read through the book The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky, which provided me with a deeper understanding of the game theory behind Poker. To gain more insight into the math and strategies behind professional Poker play, I read Modern Poker Theory by Michael Acevedo. In addition to the research I did through reading Poker books, I also did a mini-project in which I calculated the probability of certain hand occurrences. I then made a Montecarlo hand simulation using Excel and ran 10,000 hands to see how close my calculated results were to the results in the simulation. They ended up being very similar.
Project Name: Writing a Novella: A Story of Roots and Cultural Transition
Student(s): Sean Kook ’22 (Grade 11)
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Debby Katz, Upper School English Teacher
Brief Description of Project: Inspired by Barack Obama’s memoir Dreams From My Father, I wrote Turntables, a carefully planned year-long project from the fall of 2020 to the spring of 2021. It traces back my own roots to a small privileged neighborhood in South Korea. The novella is essentially an amalgam of different real-life experiences witnessed by my father, my friends, and myself while assimilating into the American culture. In short: "It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it" – George Carlin.
Project Name: Contemporary Black and Indigenous Poetry
Student(s): Sasha Leonard ’21 (Grade 12)
Faculty Advisor: Iain Pollock, English Department Chair
Brief Description of Project: For my independent project, I studied seven poetry collections from contemporary Black and Indigenous poets and attempted to create my own work inspired by their departures from the Eurocentric canon of poetic form. Throughout my study, I was especially interested in understanding how BIPOC experiences and stories could reflect in the way in which a poet approached their own writing and whether that inherently required a different format than what is typically associated with Western poetry. Furthermore, I was fortunate enough to be able to push my boundaries in terms of experimenting with different literary and visual forms to create meaning, and from that, I completed a chapbook with some of my favorite poems.
Project Name: Literature of the Latin American Boom
Student(s): Kyle Mandell ’21 (Grade 12)
Faculty Advisor: Joan Kubisch, Upper School Spanish Teacher
Brief Description of Project: Building on my independent study last year, my project has served as a personal continuation of the RCDS Spanish curriculum. After completing the AP Spanish Literature and Culture course, I decided that I wanted to expand my literary consumption in Spanish beyond the AP reading list. As a result, Ms. Kubisch and I tackled a number of literary works—moving from the depths of Gabriel García Márquez’s epic Cien Años de Soledad to Pablo Neruda’s “odes” to various inanimate objects to Isabel Allende’s feminist short stories in Cuentos de Eva Luna. We approached each work with a critical literary lens to analyze the patterns, details, and themes that contribute to the work, the author’s oeuvre, and the Spanish-speaking literary canon.
Project Name: Advanced Study in Producing and Directing a Production
Student(s): Eesha Narain ’21
Faculty Advisor: Kate Henerey, Upper and Middle School Drama Teacher
Brief Description of Project: In the first half of the year in my independent study, we looked at the play titled Blood at the Root and walked through how I would potentially go about directing this play from scratch. We organized audition cuts, potential show dates, and did a director analysis on the play. Through walking through the steps of how to research and explore a play, I was able to prepare for directing in college. We looked at first impressions, directorial challenges, and research in the analysis and used this to figure out a rehearsal schedule and blocking for scenes. Although we did not actually execute this play, we did all of the necessary preparation.
During the second half of the year, we looked towards the One Acts, and I took on an Assistant Production Manager role. In addition to directing my own three monologues, I also helped Ms. Henerey with logistics and preparation. We organized things like the show order, tickets and audiences, and tech schedules. Through taking on this role, I was able to apply the directorial skills I had worked on in the first half of the year.
Project Name: The Theory and Practice of Public Purpose in Bolivia and Kenya
Student(s): Eesha Narain ’21 (Grade 12)
Faculty Advisor: Ali Morgan, Director of Diversity and Inclusion & Rebecca Drago, Director of Public Purpose
Brief Description of Project: During the first half of the year, we analyzed and looked at various service programs in Kenya. We analyzed how programs and organizations can be most effective in achieving their missions and serving specific needs. We also applied these conversations to RCDS service organizations during the second half of the year. We also looked towards examining service clubs and organizations at RCDS to evaluate if they are truly effective and achieve the meaning of service learning. If not, the hope is to provide feedback and reform these programs so that RCDS can truly be helping those around us in an effective manner that benefits both parties.
Project Name: Marketing Strategies in Graphic Design
Student(s): Jesse Perlmutter ’21 (Grade 12)
Faculty Advisor: Chris Kaye
Brief Description of Project: We focused on many facets of how design is incorporated into marketing, from how text placement affects the look of the design to the concept of emotional literacy and understanding of both the consumer and designer. These key ideologies are driving the design industry and have made consistent growth and development of design into new directions. Our first project focused on the development and understanding of Adobe Illustrator, then we moved on to redesigning previously designed advertisements and then finished with product design focusing on the designer and the current market/consumer.
Project Name: An In-Depth Study of Contemporary Art
Student(s): Samantha Roskind ’21 (Grade 12)
Faculty Advisor: Jeff Bates, Director of College Counseling
Brief Description of Project: During the first semester of my independent study, I read Edward Lucie-Smith’s book Movements in Art Since 1945. The book is composed of 13 chapters, each one focusing on a specific contemporary art movement. The movements I studied that interested me the most were Abstract Expressionism, Pop art, and Minimalism. Each week, I completed a chapter of the book. Chapters were, at times, dense and difficult to understand after one read, so I sometimes did additional research on the movements and artists about which I was learning.
Also, over the course of the school year, I visited numerous museums, galleries, and art fairs. I made connections between the works I saw and the movements I learned about in Lucie-Smith’s book. During the second semester of my independent study, I used the book to complete analytical and comparative write-ups on specific works.