O’Neal hosts second annual SSRP symposium

The O’Neal School hosted its second annual Signature Scholars Research Program (SSRP) symposium to showcase the research of two SSRP Scholars. The two 20-minute presentations were held at O’Neal on Thursday, May 18.

The talks presented were: “Victorian Women: The Issue of Economics and Perception in Defining England’s Women” by Emma Sager and “Astrobiology, Aliens, and a Guy Named Frank” by Maxwell Epstein.

Sager’s research examined assumptions about the static image of the Victorian woman to reveal a more complex, multidimensional figure who impacted ideas about class, politics, and individual expression.

Epstein researched the elements of the Drake Equation, developed by Frank Drake, that combine to give a framework to quantify the number of alien civilizations. Given the number of threats on Earth, his examination of the various elements leaves one to ponder whether society should examine more closely where Earth stands in the Milky Way when it comes to the preservation of Earth’s civilization.

“Emma and Max are a part of the inaugural cohort of the program and are the first to complete the two-year course of study,” states SSRP Director and English Department Chair Dr. Nicole Camastra. “They have read and written a lot, worked with faculty mentors, given several small presentations, and have forged connections with experts in their field.”

In the fall, Sager will be attending Washington College to study history and economics. Epstein will be attending Columbia University to study nuclear engineering and dance.

O’Neal launched the inaugural cohort of the SSRP in the fall of 2022. It is a highly selective program for upperclassmen who are not only academically strong but also passionate about a specific subject area.

Applications for the program are submitted during students’ sophomore year. The two-year intensive study is directed by English Department Chair, Dr. Nicole Camastra.

The first year as juniors, students take the Research Methodology and Philosophy course taught by Dr. Camastra, who guides their exploratory research. That same year, the scholars write an annotated bibliography and research proposal; they also identify experts on their research topic as credible sources and plan the schedule and phases of the project from beginning to end.

While working with a faculty mentor during their senior year, the scholars produce a 10,000-word research paper or portfolio/product of relative weight and value. They present and discuss their research before the school community and the public. Students who complete the program earn a diploma with distinction from O’Neal.

O’Neal’s SSRP is intended to allow these exceptional students to engage in an intensive student-centered and inquiry-based course of study that will challenge them well beyond a normal college preparatory or Advanced Placement program.

“These seniors have earned the title of ‘scholar,’” states Head of School John Elmore. “Broadly, scholars love to learn, they engage with their teachers and with other students, and they are excited to learn the answers and to apply their knowledge. Scholars also share their ideas. They go beyond the normal or average expectations to understand or learn or question even more. They’re excited by challenges and know that it is essential to learn from our mistakes. Scholars appreciate and respect the intellect of others.”

Students emerge from the SSRP with a well-wrought and well-earned point of view on their given topic. They have become well-acquainted with the requisite elements of research, placing them at a great advantage among their peers at the college level.

Moreover, they have identified and established a network of contacts in the student’s primary discipline, contacts that have the potential to grow and nurture the student’s personal investment in the research area. In this sense, the project has the potential to continue growing and adding value to the student’s life well beyond its two-year requirement at the Upper School level.

This year’s symposium was filmed and publicly posted on the school’s YouTube channel.

Feature photo: Emma Sager (left), Dr. Nicole Camastra, and Maxwell Epstein.

Courtesy photo/Contributed.

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