Each May for the past several decades, senior students at Carlisle School have embarked on the Senior Project, a unique milestone in their Carlisle education.
Under ordinary circumstances, the seniors research a field that interests them and participate in at least 50 hours of on-site work to learn as much about that profession as possible.
Following that immersive experience, students produce a comprehensive portfolio of writing and research reflecting on their experience, and prepare a presentation for their peers, faculty, and families.
A panel of judges, chosen from community leaders and professionals, offers an unbiased and rigorous evaluation of their work.
Graduates report that the Senior Project gives them a great deal of clarity about their career path and goals, as well as helping them to overcome anxieties about public speaking and self-presentation.
Gregory Morrison, a class of 2002 alumnus and a current faculty member, oversees the Carlisle Senior Project program. In early March, as discussions of COVID-related school closures circulated, Morrison began planning out all possible scenarios for students to participate in the culminating senior experience, depending on what the future held. Morrison’s planning has enabled him to seamlessly roll out assignments and instructions for a modified Senior Project experience, when schools statewide moved exclusively to a distance-learning format.
For the modified project this year, seniors were asked to contact at least two professionals in their field of interest and interview them. Additionally, they were asked to make a “product” – a completed work that related to their interest.
These products ranged from medical equipment to self-defense tutorials, from closely-edited journalism to custom video-game design. Each student submitted a digital folder containing annotated articles, a daily journal, a 1,000-word reflection essay, interviews (either in a transcript or recorded), and a presentation. They also filmed themselves giving the presentation to present their findings and products virtually. Examples of these projects can be viewed at CarlisleSchool.org/seniorproject.
Senior Project judges this year were R. Craig Jones, Head of School at The Phelps School; and Angela Casolaro, Director of Business Development at HearstLab, along with consultations by other professionals. The panel reviewed each folder and followed a rubric to grade the project files submitted.
“There’s something irreplaceable about an in-person presentation,” Morrison said. “We don’t get to laugh at their jokes or show them how interesting their comments are. We don’t get to come up to them afterward and congratulate them when we don’t have everyone in the room at the same time.”
But, he noted “the seniors were working under extremely adverse conditions, and they deserve every plaudit and praise that we can give them.”
Carlisle’s 28 seniors chose a wide range of career fields to explore. Lynden Gilstrap of Danville studied how psychotherapy is used in psychology and psychiatry. She made an anti-anxiety video for her product, styled after videos that many therapists use for patients. In her presentation, Gilstrap explained that she has “always been fascinated with how the mind works,” and she was interested in developing “the ability to help others.” For her project, she interviewed Dr. Frank Russell, a clinical psychologist and Dr. Wales George, a psychiatrist. Through the project, Gilstrap gained a better understanding of psychology and psychiatry and confirmed that she does want to pursue a career in psychiatry. She will attend the University of Virginia this fall.
Andrew Chitwood of Collinsville chose to explore communications/marketing focusing on the local response to Coronavirus.
“For most of my life, I believed I fell on the STEM side of the spectrum and would love to be an engineer. It wasn’t until last year that I realized I liked talking to people and even informing people. In a very basic way, I figured that was communications, so that’s where my interest fell when we started our senior project,” he said.
Chitwood interviewed Latala Hodges, Director of Communications for The Harvest Foundation and Kimberly Braam, a Communications Manager for Mauser Packaging Solutions, based in Chicago. His product was an informative newsletter on COVID that he created with guidance on communication and design from both professionals. After completing the project, Chitwood said, “I have been led to believe my interest in a career in communications may end up being the right path for me.” He will attend Roanoke College this fall.
Daisy Harris, of Axton, explored the process of designing a non-profit community service organization. She interviewed Julianna Carter, an advisor for CHILL (Communities Helping Improve Local Lives) and Janika Hunt, a 2010 Carlisle alumna who volunteers for several community organizations.
Harris ‘product’ was The Shavika Foundation, created in honor of her late mother. “My mother, Shavika Harris, loved volunteering and helping others. She coached basketball teams, ran concessions for school, educated kids on life choices, and even cared for the elders. She was a huge inspiration to kids who were around her. If you have ever met my mom, you would have realized that her limit of giving and caring for others was at one hundred percent,” Harris said, and added that growing up with someone so passionate and hard-working inspired her to create the service organization.
Harris envisions the foundation will educate the youth on life outside of technology while helping them with academics and athletics. It will also offer training on life skills like sewing, cooking, cleaning, and planting trees. As part of her project, Harris designed a website, a social media presence, business cards, and a brochure. She also researched all the steps required to make a non-profit official, including drafting a business plan and governing documents and creating a fundraising plan. According to Harris, “This organization is something I would love to do in the future, and if everything goes as planned, it will happen.” She will attend Bluefield College this fall.
Will Johnston of Martinsville is interested in becoming an entrepreneur to develop a line of duck and turkey calls and offering professional guide services for hunting. Johnston interviewed Tyler Beam from Witt’s Plumbing in Martinsville and Josh Pruitt from Swamp Stud Nation in Reidsville, N.C., to learn the basics of entrepreneurship. Through the interviews and research, he learned how to start up and run a small business, expand a business, manage finances, working with the public, advertising, and taxation characteristics for various types of companies. “During this project, I feel that I obtained a head start of what is to come in college,” he said. Johnston will attend Patrick Henry Community College this fall.
Lindsay Favero, Upper School Director, said “I am not surprised in the least that the Class of 2020 rose to the occasion and tackled the challenge of the modified Senior Project with gusto. This is an exceptional group of young men and women who have demonstrated time and again that they will achieve and persevere through challenges. I am confident that they will continue to find success as they move on to college this fall. I wish each of them joy and fulfillment in their future endeavors and look forward to following their successes.”
Jones said, “In my five decades of experience in education, I have seen young people confront extraordinary challenges. But this group of young people blew me away. It was my honor to learn about their hard work. I only wish that I could have seen them in person. Congratulations to the class of 2020! Go Chiefs!”
Carlisle’s seniors finished the year strong with 100 percent college acceptance and earning more than $5.4 million in merit-based college scholarships. They will officially graduate July 17, in the school’s 47th Commencement Ceremony.
Carlisle is currently enrolling in grades Pre-K3 through 12th for the 2020-2021 school year, and prospective families can learn more by visiting CarlisleSchool.org/tour.