Senior Projects 2014: Smart, practical and socially aware
The atmosphere was festive, with clusters of students leaning in and listening to the members of the senior class talk about their class projects, but on the edges were teachers walking around with clipboards marking down their thoughts, quietly judging.
This was the annual presentation of the senior class projects, which this year ranged in topics from a mysterious American anthropologist who may have discovered an ancient South American village to the mechanical differences between a two-stroke and four-stroke motorcycle engine.
Senior Quentin Deane, in fact, brought in a Kawasaki motorcycle as the primary focus of his senior project. Deane has been accepted into the automotive program at New England Technical College.
“I basically restored this whole bike,” he said. “It was dirty and had missing parts.” It was now anything but. Deane explained — in terms exceeding the grasp of this reporter — the workings of internal combustion engines, the design specifications of exhaust pipes in relation to the power of the engine, all of which were accompanied by his diagrams and descriptions that he had created for his Power Point presentation.
“This,” Deane said, “Is something I want to do as a career.”
James McNerney focused on energy for his senior project, only this time it was alternative energy for automobiles. He had descriptions for solar cars, electric cars, thorium and hydrogen powered cars. McNerney is heading to the University of Rhode Island in the fall.
“I’ve always been interested in alternative energies, but I’ve focused on cars specifically to limit my research. I didn’t know about half the fuels.”
Hydrogen, McNerney explained, “won’t debut until next year.” And thorium, which is “slightly radioactive” is “not close to being developed right now.” But as a potential fuel source, he said thorium would be “insanely effective. Eight grams of thorium can power a car for up to 100 years.”
There were, in fact, several energy-themed senior projects this year. When asked if he thought whether this was because energy costs are such a prominent topic on Block Island, or if the seniors just had more global awareness, McNerney said, “I think it’s a combination. [Fellow senior] Oliver [Mott] is a bit more [focused on] the cost of energy on the island. Mine is about gas prices, especially on the island where the prices are a dollar more a gallon than on the mainland.”
Senior Kim Woodward dipped into her own family’s history for her project, investigating a great uncle by the name of Theodore Morell, who was an explorer in Honduras who claimed to have rediscovered a lost city — La Ciudad Blanca — that he called “The Lost City of the Monkey God.” She talked of Ulaks, the half-human, half-spirit beings that inhabited the lost city.
“This was a big archeological find for everyone,” said Woodward, who had her uncle’s original journals and copies of interviews he had conducted with newspapers and radio back in the 1940s. Morell might not be known today, but Woodward said he “was very well known person, even outside of his circles.” He was a special agent for the federal Military Intelligence Division and also a writer. She admitted that he was very much like a real Indiana Jones.
Woodward is heading to Marist College in the fall.
MacKenzie Boutin, who is going to St. Michaels College in the fall, also concentrated on energy. “What’s your carbon footprint?” was the question his project asked.
“Some of it may have been a coincidence,” he said about the energy-themed projects. “But it is a very important topic. We have more of a carbon footprint on the island than we think. Our diesel engine is not very efficient. For such a small island it should be more of a concern for us.”
His project focused on how to reduce energy use for your home and car.
Oliver Mott designed and built a model home that would fit on a piece of property his family has on the island. “This is designed to fit my grandmother’s property,” he said. Mott, who will be going to the University of Rhode Island to study civil engineering, designed the house with the help of his father. It was shaped to capture as much southern warmth as possible and to be protected from the winds from the north.
There were two things he wanted his project to show. “Energy-efficient houses are better for the environment and they’re more comfortable to live in.”
Kit Woodward’s project focused on boat maintenance and repair. It had very simple and direct origins. “A couple of years ago my parents bought a boat and we got stuck for two hours,” he said. He worked on the boat over the course of a full winter. The fabric was torn and “it had all these little problems,” he said of the craft. The boat was painted and repaired and put in the water while Woodward was working at the Block Island Marina.
His project outlined the do’s and don’ts of boat care, from the use of certain metals (zinc) to avoid corrosion, to electrical repair. He accompanied all of this with a paper on fishing regulations.
“Without fishing regulations, you can fish as much as you want, and the cost of fish will go down and basically we’ll have no fish,” said Woodward.
Kal Lemoine also focused on energy efficiency, specifically on reducing the size of the average home. “My questions are, ‘How low can you go? How little can you live with?’” His ideal house, which he built a model of, “would be simple.” He designed it with a loft, and his accompanying slide show pictured several tiny, yet elegant homes that were no more than a couple of rooms, but which also, oddly, looked spacious and comfortable.
“I was thinking about property growth and how rapidly the population is growing,” said Lemoine, who will be going to New England Tech in the fall. He mentioned the number of people who lost their homes in the recent recession because they could no longer afford them.
“Is there a way to fix this problem? If we reduce the size of our homes, we could have more money to do other things,” said Lemoine. “I’m basically saying the American dream is not necessarily about having a humongous house.”