New Grad Reflects on “Ripple Effects” of Leadership, Senior Project

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New Grad Reflects on “Ripple Effects” of Leadership, Senior Project
Mary Kornegay

Heidi Segars ’22 explores how service, leadership and creativity coalesced in her senior project — a website sharing at-home, kid-friendly science experiments.

The Senior Capstone Project is another longstanding tradition for Ravenscroft students, giving soon-to-be graduates the opportunity to learn a new skill, commit to a service opportunity, complete a hands-on project or accept the challenge of an internship. This year’s senior class benefited from relaxed pandemic protocols, making the most of the three weeks to explore a wide range of ideas and possibilities — then sharing them with the school community during a Senior Project Showcase, held in the dining hall of the Olander Center for Student Life at the A.E. Finley Activity Center on Wednesday, May 25.

Here, Heidi Segars ’22 reflects on her project and the many ways this tradition extends and expands on Lead From Here for many graduating seniors.

“Yesterday I was clever. So I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise. So I am changing myself.” — Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

This Persian poet’s insight perfectly describes the road that brought me to my Senior Capstone Project: designing a website with hands-on, at-home science experiments for young Ravens.

Heidi’s project, a website featuring eight science experiments for younger students to try at home, includes “Beautiful Bridges,” a design-engineering challenge.

“Yesterday,” we lived in a pre-pandemic world. As a freshman, my vision of a successful leader was someone who makes the biggest impact on the most people. I “cleverly” went about this by embarking on as many leadership positions as I could find and making use of all the competencies in our Lead From Here framework. I took pride in my progress as a rising student in “Effective Leadership 101.”

“Today,” the pandemic has changed everything. Conferences promising to help form me in leadership principles slammed to a halt. Museums and camps where I had volunteered closed. All of a sudden, leadership roles for high schoolers like me seemed “non-essential.”

Yet the pandemic offered something I needed, too — time and space for self-reflection. Ironically, when service appeared more optional, I discovered a greater need in my community. As I had prior experience in education, I was particularly attuned to the urgent reality that many children were becoming detached from learning. But I was struggling to stay engaged myself and felt ill-equipped to respond to the problem. 

Certainly my experiences “yesterday” helped cultivate necessary skills for effective leadership “today” — like how to collaborate with my peers and contribute to an organization’s mission. But I came to a humbling realization: nearly every opportunity I had sought out to lead actually required me to follow someone else’s vision. I felt paralyzed without a prepackaged leadership plan that spoon-fed me a strategy of how to best respond.

Admitting my incomplete ideas of leadership and personal shortcomings were the first steps in becoming “wise.” I forced myself outside my comfort zone to work on a leadership skill I had neglected: creative thinking. I started brainstorming ways to cultivate kids’ curiosity and excitement in learning. I knew from personal experience that hands-on science experiments would do the trick. So, I created a free, virtual two-week science camp. I developed a curriculum, wrote a laboratory notebook and delivered authentic materials like conductive tape and PH test strips to each of my 15 campers’ homes. 

Heidi Segars ’22, at right, discusses her senior project with a classmate during the Senior Project Showcase on May 25.

While I was teaching, I witnessed first-hand the tangible impact on the kids’ excitement to learn each day. What I didn’t expect were the ripple effects that continued after the camp ended. One camper recreated each experiment with her younger brother. Another spent extra time improving his foil boat with his friends. Yet another used the chromatography paper to test extra markers around her house!

Last month, my senior classmates and I embarked upon the Senior Capstone Project. In the words of our senior dean, Ms. Leaptrott, the project is “an important and unique opportunity to give back, and it epitomizes a student’s transition from bystander in their community to active, contributing participant.” I immediately remembered my camp and how it deepened my understanding of what it means to “lead from here.” My senior project allowed for a new and unique ripple effect of the camp: sharing my ideas for hands-on learning with the greater Ravenscroft community.

I decided to create a website entitled “Raven Science to Go” that outlines in detail the experiments from the camp. Each tab includes the experiment’s materials, procedure, activities and ideas for further research. 

Creating the website has empowered me to take initiative and exercise creative leadership in new ways. I will continue using the lessons that I have learned from “yesterday” and “today,” but I anticipate that there will be new needs and opportunities “tomorrow” that will further change my understanding of leadership. I am better equipped now, though, to continue growing in self-reflection as I confront new challenges as a leader. 

Check out the “Raven Science to Go” website using a Ravenscroft Google account here.

See more photos of the Senior Project Showcase here