Seniors Explore Career Interests Through Capstone Studies

During her final three weeks as a senior at The Colorado Springs School (CSS), Sasha Malone ’22 shadowed ophthalmologists, observing cornea transplants as well as cataract and glaucoma surgeries, to gauge whether ophthalmology is a career she’d like to pursue.

Sasha Malone Capstone

“I have always been interested in eyes, so I thought diving into them during my Capstone was a perfect opportunity for me,” Sasha said. “Additionally, I really enjoy science, specifically cell and molecular biology, and this project relates to that topic.”

Annually, Senior Capstone projects at CSS immerse students in areas of their choice to deliver an experience that fosters innovation and engagement in a real-world context before graduation. Topics this year ranged from neurosurgery, music production, and biomedical engineering to entomology and art, pediatrics, and the business of dance.

Unlike Experience-Centered Seminars, which are planned by teachers and carried out in groups, students are tasked with researching and designing their own unique Capstone topics. Throughout the process, they form essential questions to guide their experiences, conduct informational interviews with professionals beyond the walls of CSS, and secure a community mentor to provide them with expert guidance.

“Capstones give [CSS] students amazing opportunities to dive into a topic that they may never again dive into, or dive into a topic that they will possibly do for the rest of their lives,” said Senior Capstone Director Amy Miller, also the school’s English Department Chair and National Honor Society Faculty Sponsor. “To watch their faces as they talk about seeing surgeries or building a house or playing with the Commodores is like nothing we see in a classroom setting.”

Aiden Burke Capstone

For his Capstone, Aiden Burke ’22 – an avid drummer – wrote, recorded and produced a music album spanning several genres, including rap, pop, rock, and electric dance music. He collaborated with community mentor, recording engineer, musician, producer, and composer Thomas Dawson, who is best known for his work as a keyboardist and music director for the Commodores, the Grammy Award-winning funk and soul Motown band.

“This is an amazing opportunity for me,” said Burke, who has been writing his own songs for the past five years. “We have so much fun together.”

Prior to his high school years, Burke had expressed interest in becoming a marine biologist or DJ until his passions shifted to singer/songwriter. “I love the whole idea that you create something and it stays in the world for however long it may be,” he said. “I mean, we’re still listening to songs from the ’50s and ’60s; I think it’d be cool to leave that kind of impact on the world.”

According to Burke, who will matriculate to the University of Colorado Denver in the fall, one of the biggest life takeaways from his Capstone experience was the importance of being genuine, which stood out to him while meeting people from the industry. “They care more about who I am as a person than my music. I think that’s so important. It’s a lot less weight on my back,” Burke said. “I can be myself.”

Ella Brintnall Capstone

To complement her research, Ella Brintnall ’22 assumed the role of special effects makeup artist during CSS’s Upper School spring production of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Rough Magic. "This was definitely a highlight of my entire Capstone,” said Brintnall. “For the week I did the play makeup, I looked forward to theatre every single day. Both production nights were great experiences and showed me a little sneak peek into what it’s like applying makeup for actual plays. There was slight pressure because I had to make sure to finish on time before they went onto the stage."

Brintnall, who has chosen to continue her academic career at the Make-Up Designory this fall, also learned the business side of being a professional makeup artist from two mentors, Brooke Kelly-Rawls P’32, P’30 of BK Blush Beauty and Julianna Casimiro. She attended wedding trials, prom applications, maternity shoot applications, and actual wedding applications, gaining yet more hands-on experience by applying make-up during some of these events.

"I was hesitant about whether or not I wanted to pursue make-up as a career, however, this Capstone has made me realize just how much I love it," Brintnall said. "It’s going to be challenging, but I am really looking forward to what my future holds."

For Malone, who shadowed at the Eye Associates of Colorado Springs, she was so fascinated by her Capstone experience that she wants to learn even more about eyes. “I had no idea that most common eye surgeries are fairly short,” she said. “For example, the cataract surgeries I’ve observed were only 12 to 15 minutes long, and cornea transplants were under an hour.”

Malone’s project gave her insight into the primary question: “Could it become a career?”

“As long as I can remember, I have wanted to pursue a career in the medical field, and after experiencing some of the typical tasks in ophthalmology,” she said, “I feel that I still would like to continue down that path.” Malone will be continuing her studies at Tulane University.

Learn about other 2022 Senior Capstone projects here.