Seniors Breathe Easy With Projects Done

Lily Baron helped a business partner open a teashop in Kasese, Uganda, from afar as part of her senior project at the Ross School. Morgan McGivern

       Following months of hard work, Ross School seniors can finally breathe a sigh of relief now that their senior projects have been handed in.

       The projects are an annual tradition at Ross, where students often start brainstorming potential topics shortly after arriving on campus. Cheyenne Eberstadt, 17, recalls thinking about her senior project as early as the fifth grade.

       “It’s been this big, scary thing for so long,” said Cheyenne, who decided to focus on obsessive-compulsive disorder after receiving a diagnosis. Her project includes six art pieces that illustrate how O.C.D. manifests in the brain. The bulk of the project took shape following an apprenticeship with Michael Pourfar, a neurologist at New York University.

       The projects, which begin toward the end of the junior year, make up the bulk of the senior year, with students scrambling to assemble the necessary pieces in time. As with a college thesis, a member of the Ross faculty works in tandem with each student.

       “I went into it thinking I would apply to art school and study design, and this whole project guided me in a whole different direction,” Cheyenne said during a conversation Monday afternoon alongside a handful of her classmates. Come September, she will enroll at Boston University, where she plans to study neuroscience.

       Dale Scott, who directs the Ross libraries, has been at the school for 14 years. For the past three years, she has overseen the senior projects.

       “For the students, the most important thing is to become independent learners,” said Ms. Scott, who sees students becoming more mature and self-confident as a result. “They believe in themselves in a way that they didn’t before. Last year they seemed like kids, but now they seem like young adults.”

       Joe Ando-Hirsh, 18, built a windmill that powers an ultraviolet-L.E.D. water purification system. Two summers ago, while living on a self-sustaining farm in the Galapagos Islands, Joe observed villagers having to travel into town for clean drinking water. He hopes the windmill might help solve such frustrations.

       Eli Schultz, 17, who grew up in East Hampton and has been enrolled at Ross since the fifth grade, worked on a senior project that combined science, language, literature, and math. For “I Am Here: The Eli Schultz Mapping Experience,” he collected graphics and fables to explain complex concepts — from climate change to terrorist networks to the Affordable Care Act.

       The project allowed him the freedom to explore his various interests. “It was about working towards something bigger, a building-up feeling,” said Eli, who plans to study chemistry in college.

       Another East Hamptoner, Lily Baron, 18, has attended Ross since the fourth grade. Her senior project initially began online, after she met a Ugandan through Interpals, a website linking pen pals worldwide, to help improve her Swahili.

       Soon, their friendship became a business partnership. After raising $2,000 through fund-raising efforts, in December she and her pen pal opened a tea shop in Kasese, Uganda. Its ultimate objective is to provide Internet access for locals. In the meantime, the tea shop provides a clean and hospitable gathering place, where food and beverages are sold to residents and tourists at reasonable prices.

       Though she has yet to visit Uganda, the project has ignited a passion. Once in college, Lily hopes to study international business and African studies.

       For Chris Engel, who directs special programs at Ross and also serves as a project mentor, the senior projects are about helping students find their voice.

       This past year, he served as Olivia Meihofer’s mentor. Though she took a bit of coaxing at first, Olivia, 17, ultimately wrote and produced her own EP, or extended play CD. A casual singer, she started taking formal voice lessons only a year ago. Olivia, who lives in Bridgehampton, now plans to major in music at the State University at Oneonta.

       “When I went into it, I didn’t know where it would end up,” said Olivia, who wrote and recorded eight original songs. “I don’t know if I will end up becoming a performer, but I do know that I want to do something in the field.”

Joe Ando-Hirsh recently built a wind fan that powers a water purification system. Inspired while on a trip to the Galapagos Islands, the Ross School senior hopes his project might provide rural dwellers with access to clean drinking water. Morgan McGivern