Seniors Explore Interests through Capstone Projects

May 25, 2021

Elise L. ‘21 arrived a little late to AP Environmental Science class one day with a good excuse: she had been observing a knee replacement surgery and chatting with the anesthesiologist about his role.

She is shadowing Dr. Eric Jepson, an orthopedic surgeon, for her Senior Capstone project at The Colorado Springs School. Capstones allow seniors to spend several weeks near the end of the school year immersing in a topic of their choice to give students a dynamic, culminating experience before graduating.

Some of the projects seniors selected this year focus on artificial intelligence, designing a biomedical device, start-up businesses, elementary school teaching, animation, and sports marketing. Some students have unexpected takeaways.

“Just from watching surgeries I’ve learned so much about the hardware that goes into knees,” Elise said. “I didn’t realize how complicated it was. They have different sizes they test out to make sure it fits and the knee works well with it before they put it in.”

Unlike Experience-Centered Seminars, which are planned by teachers and carried out in groups, students design their own Capstone project. They form essential questions to guide their experience, conduct informational interviews with professionals outside of CSS, and secure a community mentor who provides guidance.

Two days a week, Elise joins Dr. Jepson as he meets with patients, and she observes surgeries on two other days.

“I didn’t realize how big the personal aspect of surgery is, especially working with older patients,” Elise said. “They have so many stories. Some have lost loved ones during the pandemic. It’s pretty heartbreaking to hear about when they spill everything to Dr. Jepson. What I appreciate about him is he’s a really personable guy. He’s willing to talk to his patients and make them comfortable as they head into really big surgeries.”

Elise chose her project based on the career she wants to pursue, and the hands-on experience has helped her discover what path she wants to explore further.

“I’ve always been super interested in the medical field. I want to become a physician’s assistant, but I don’t know if orthopedic surgery is where I want to go. I don’t know if I want to see the same thing day after day. I think emergency medicine sounds really compelling to me,” said Elise, whose father is an emergency physician.

Aadi N. ‘21 is using artificial intelligence to understand brainwaves for his Capstone. He explains it like this: The brain produces different brainwaves while doing different tasks. For example, brainwaves may be far more active when someone is reading a calculus book than when they are relaxing.

“The goal of my Capstone project is to have an AI system recognize what state and intermediate states someone is in just from their brainwaves,” Aadi said. “To do this, I first record my brainwaves and tell the program which state I was in. The AI program then uses image recognition to classify what mental state different waveforms correspond to without my help.”

Aadi N. '21 is using artificial intelligence to understand brainwaves for his C Aadi had previously learned how to program and build AI to complete projects to gain insight into complex systems such as the brain. His Capstone expands on that initial work, and he plans to continue his work in the field. He hopes to explore such questions as, “Could we help people who can’t speak by reading words from their mind?”

When recording brainwaves, Aadi observed a transition period between different states of mind. When transitioning from an alert state to a more meditative state, for example, there is a period of time in which the brainwaves become less active.

“I was surprised by how quickly brainwaves transitioned like this, and how, even in a relaxed state, brainwave activity could be graphed to find periods of higher activity,” Aadi said. “Though it is difficult to precisely validate, this made me think that this activity might be the equivalent of when you might be trying to relax when suddenly a worry or external thought hits you—an interesting brainwave representation of an annoying physical phenomenon!”

He’s also been reminded of the value of patience. “The data is so rarely what you expect it to look like,” he said. “All real-world problems yield unexpected results and take time to improve, so getting this experience and struggling with my AI models now is good preparation for challenging projects in the future.”

Bailey R. ‘21 turned to nature for her Capstone by exploring ecopsychology, which focuses on studying the emotional bond between humans and the earth.

“I’m learning that as our society grows and becomes more modern, fewer and fewer kids are getting outside,” she said. “Recently it’s not that these kids have lost their connection with nature and the world around us; it’s that they never had that connection to begin with because they didn’t grow up like that.”

Bailey grew up on 40 acres south of Colorado Springs, spending much of her childhood in nature. She’s a member of the Green Team, a CSS Upper School club that promotes environmentalism at school through various projects in sustainability and eco-awareness. She plans to pursue a career in environmental science or environmental studies.

Her Capstone has strengthened her connection to nature by being even more mindful of everyday actions that affect the earth such as using reusable bags instead of plastic ones from the store. To wrap up her project, she was planning a solo camping trip to unplug from technology and fully immerse herself in nature.

“We’ve diverged from this ecocentric society to a more egocentric society,” she said. “It’s not nature and then humans. It’s not two different items. It’s one reality that we are breaking up into two — because we are really a part of earth like anything else on our planet. Ecopsychology is having that in the back of your mind, being more aware, and giving it credit when it deserves it.”

When Ben M. ‘21 wanted to learn about biomedical devices for his Capstone, he reached out to Dawn Lissy P’26, P’24, a biomedical engineer who is the president and co-founder of Empirical Technologies Corp. The company conducts mechanical testing of orthopedic devices.

“My final goal is to be able to design a biomedical device — what materials I would use, what the cost would be, and do it along the same criteria as a real engineer,” Ben said. “I won’t be creating it but designing it — and who knows, maybe creating it down the line.”

Ben is interested in designing a peripheral intravenous catheter for people who are overweight or have deep veins.

“Right now most peripheral IVs range from 1-inch to 1.88 inches. A longer catheter would be needed, but it’d be hard to thread through. If you insert a catheter and the person moves, the catheter can easily pop out of the vein. The medicine would go into fluid and tissue surrounding the vein,” said Ben, who also has an idea for how to more easily thread a longer catheter.

Ben has been observing engineers in the lab at Empirical. “My employees love him,” Mrs. Lissy said. “He’s working himself into having a summer job. He picks up things quickly, and he asks good questions. That’s what a good scientist does.”

After Ben shared with Mrs. Lissy that he needed help getting started with the design process, she walked him through steps to make it more approachable.

“When you have an overwhelmingly large project, how do you navigate it? You break it down into chunks that you can manage,” said Mrs. Lissy, who is honored Ben sought her out. “I’m a big fan of paying it forward and I love it when people want to learn and expand their horizons and not let fear of the unknown stop them. I wouldn’t be where I am without others paying it forward.”

The Class of 2021 will share Capstone reflections on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. during Senior Tributes & Senior Capstone Shareout in the Louisa Performing Arts Center. Only senior students and families are invited to attend this event due to COVID safety protocols. Others may join in via Zoom. A link will be sent to CSS families before the event.

Below is a list of seniors and their Capstone topics or titles:

Brooke A. ‘21, Outdoors Preparedness

Zoe B. ‘21, The Inner Workings of Radiology

Dane C. ‘21, A History Unrepaired

Aidan D. ‘21, Optimizing French

Asher D. ‘21, Model UN and International Relations in the Modern World

Alair F. ‘21, Solo Backpacking

Owen G. ‘21, Welding

Diamond G. ‘21, The Art of Food

Lukas G. ‘21, Revolution Game

Heather H. ‘21, On the Market: The Ins and Outs of Real Estate

Ethan H. ‘21, Applied Automotive Mechanics and Business

Elise L. ‘21, The Gift of Mobility: Orthopedic Knee and Hip Joint Replacement in an Aging Population

Ben M. ‘21, Biomedical Engineering: Testing and Design

Orlando M. ‘21, A Burning World: a Fireman’s Perspective

Lydia M. ‘21, Real Life Experiences with Teaching Children

Aadi N. ‘21, Mind-reading

Zachary O. ‘21, Working in and Learning a Small Business

Kaylin P. ‘21, The Dynamic World of Orthopedics

Bailey R. ‘21, Back to the Earth: A Deep Dive into the Innate Bond Between Society and Nature

Whitney R. ‘21, Small Town, Bigger Opportunities: Local Sports Marketing

Alex S. ‘21, My Virtual Imagination: VR Dioramas

William. S ‘21, Starting Up

Owen W. ‘21, App Development for Productivity

Ty W. ‘21, The Process of Strength: The Basics of Strength Training

Aaron Y. ‘21, Space Odyssey

About The Colorado Springs School (CSS)

The Colorado Springs School is a college-preparatory, day, and international school serving students from preschool through high school. Through superior academics and mentoring, The Colorado Springs School prepares students to think independently and to meet the needs of a dynamic world with leadership, ingenuity, problem-solving skills, and personal integrity. Learn more at css.org. The school is located on 28 acres at 21 Broadmoor Avenue, Colorado Springs, CO 80906.

Aadi N. '21 is using artificial intelligence to understand brainwaves for his C