The presentation of Senior Projects is an annual rite of passage at Vernonia High School.
Each year, as a precursor to graduation and the end of their high school days, students dress themselves up in business attire, head to school in the evening and nervously step in front of a panel of community judges to make an eight to ten minute speech. Following the speech the looks and sighs of relief are evident as the students realize they have taken one more big step towards graduation day.
The Senior Project is a hands-on and experiential learning opportunity for students to work side-by-side with a career mentor. The students spend at least twenty hours working and observing while “on the job,” then must prepare a visual display and public speech which outlines their experience and what they learned. It is the only required public speaking that students must complete at VHS, so their nervousness is understandable.
The Senior Project presentations are the end of a long road. In their junior year, students sign a Letter of Intent, describing the job shadow they plan to complete. In recent years, students have gathered, on the day of presentations, in the school gymnasium to present their projects in a more informal “arena” setting. Students have a chance to talk about and explain their projects to visitors and under class students under less stressful conditions.
For the evening presentations, Senior Project advisor Rachel Wilcoxen introduced several minor changes to the structure this year. First, she allowed the students to self-choose the groups they would present in, allowing students to be with their friends and support each other. Wilcoxen also informed the students in the morning who would sit on their panel of judges, which also seemed to help relax the students.
According to several of the judges, (most of them do this year after year) this class of students seemed to be extremely well prepared and more relaxed. “These were some of the best Senior Speeches we have seen,” seemed to be the consensus.
Here is a brief description of some of the Senior Projects this year:
Brooke Johnson did a job shadow with the Timber Patrol. “I want to work in law enforcement and I also want to do something in the woods, and this involves both of them,” explained Johnson. Johnson rode on patrol, checking locks on gates, looking for vandalism, and checking permits. Johnson explained that sometimes the Timber Patrol has to confiscate items collected in the forest, like mushrooms, and that they also investigate logging accidents or criminal activity on timber property.
Stephanie Castro worked with local Message Therapist Heather Lewis as well as Physical Therapist Brian Lange in Portland. Castro is interested in pursuing a career as a Physical Therapist. She became interested after suffering a serious sports injury. “That was my inspiration, because after my ACL surgery I really liked what they did in Physical Therapy,” said Castro. As part of her Senior Project Castro also created an education plan for herself which included researching college choices. Castro says she plans to enter a community college Registered Nurse program at either PCC or Mt. Hood, then attend Linfield College to get her Bachelors Degree in nursing so she could start working as a nurse. She would then attend Pacific University to get her degree in Physical Therapy.
MaCayla Fennell did an internship at Tuality Hospital in the Labor and Delivery unit. Fennell says she was able to do many things while on the job for twenty-four total hours, including performing hearing and PKU tests, and weighing some babies. The most exciting part of her experience was being in the operating room and observing a live birth during a cesarean section procedure. “It was different, but it was really great to watch because I am a very visual learner,” said Fennell. “It was great to see how it was done and how to take care of the baby afterwards.” Fennell says she “…absolutely” wants to pursue a career in OB GYN, which involves four to six years of college.
Nikita McCord was interested in a career in Emergency Medical Services. McCord experienced two sides of this field by doing a job shadow with both a paramedic and a dispatcher. McCord traveled to the Warm Springs Reservation for her shifts in the dispatch center. She said the dispatch was especially interesting because that center handles emergency medical calls as well as police and jail calls. She also rode with paramedics in Jefferson County where she helped with paper work, gathering needed equipment and gear and observing. Although McCord says she is no longer interested in pursuing a career as a paramedic or dispatcher, she is still interested in the medical field and might pursue nursing or medical imaging.
Bridger Steward worked at Abundant Life Church camp in Clackamas with Dennis Gorton and learned about being an Executive Chef. Steward worked there for four days and helped prepare lunch and dinner for 400 people each day. Steward says he helped make grilled cheese sandwiches, a taco feed, deli meat sandwiches and roast beef. Steward is no longer interested in becoming a chef, although he says cooking will always be a hobby. Following a summer of working outdoors for Northwest Youth Conservation Corp, Steward says he would like to pursue a career in Parks and Recreation or Fish and Wildlife.
Jerimiah Hammons restored a 1974 Dodge Swinger as his Senior Project. Hammons worked with his father to complete the restoration. He says the project took almost a year of work to complete. He had to deal with a lot of rust and body work, did some welding, painted and sanded numerous times because of the age of the vehicle, applied several coats of primer and then applied several coats of paint before the final coat and then several clear coats and a final polish. Hammons also had to clean and paint the trim and install a new windshield. Hammons says he learned a lot of skills that he can use to buy, restore and re-sell cars for profit.
Laura Rice co-directed the Vernonia Ballet’s “Nutcracker” this holiday season with Jessica Davis. Rice has been a dancer in the local ballet for many years. For her project Rice helped sew costumes, painted backdrops, drew the artwork for the program cover, choreographed several dances and directed the two rehearsals and the recital. “It went well, but there were also a lot of little things that went wrong, like there always is,” said Rice about her directorial debut. Rice says she would like to pursue a more reliable career, and plans to go into speech therapy, although she would like to continue in the dance field as a way to make money and have fun.
Felicia Schirmeister did a job shadow with a dental hygienist, Tina Rhett, at Gentle Dental in Hillsboro. Schirmeister’s mentor let Felicia clean, floss and polish her teeth, so she had a chance to have a real hands-on experience. Schirmeister says she spent thirty-two hours working and observing with Rhett. She says this is definitely the career she plans to pursue and will begin work on her Bachelors Degree at PCC in the fall and hopes to finish at OHSU.
Jacob Medearis intends to pursue a career as a trombone soloist. He spent his time on his Senior Project working with Charles Reneau, the bass trombone player with the Oregon Symphony and also Medearis’s private instructor. Medearis has participated in Honors Band programs as well as the Metropolitan Youth Symphony and has competed in numerous solo contests. Medearis says he is learning how to better himself as a musician and how to perform in public. “I have loved music my whole life and really like to share that passion with others through my playing,” says Medearis. Medearis is scheduled to go on a two year mission following graduation. When he returns he will likely attend Brigham Young University to study Musical Performance and hopes to continue his musical studies and earn a Masters Degree.
Mariah Cook created an imagined bakery business called “The Yummies” for her Senior Project. Cook says she watched several baking videos as a mentoring tool. She created a recipe book filled with favorite family recipes, many handed down from her grandma, and even provided samples of her work for visitors to her display. “The theme of my business was ‘Baking Creates Memories,’” said Cook. “When you smell something like brownies it reminds you of a happy time.” Cook did much more than bake numerous tasty treats. She created an advertisement and business card for her business. She also chose an available building in Vernonia and spoke with a local bank about options for financing her project. “I learned a lot of ways to lower interest and a lot about finance in general,” say Cook. “I learned that credit is like a reputation-it takes forever to build but is easily lost.” Cook says she learned she is not interested in pursuing baking as a career, but would like to continue as a hobby. She is very interested in teaching and music.
Heather Patton spent last summer in Virginia with her uncle who is a bovine specialist and also a professor at Virginia Tech University. Patton worked as a Veterinary Tech for her Senior Project. “I did a lot of interesting things, consisting of both the gory and the not so gory,” said Patton. Patton says she assisted in surgeries, drained an abscess, castrated a bull, gave lots of vaccinations and helped treat pink eye. Patton says she would like to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, although she says she would prefer to not work with such large animals. She plans to attend college at ether BYU or Southern Virginia University to major in Biology because her dream job is to do field research on animals or in botany.