Independence days: independent study at Lab

January 25, 2020

As of the 2019-20 school year, the administration switched independent studies to a pass/fail grading system, ensuring they couldn’t be used to pad a student’s GPA. In spite of this, enrollment has hardly decreased, attracting a passionate group of students in the process. For them, pursuing a subject they love while working with an adult they trust is enough of an incentive on its own.

Senior finds creative outlet in makerspace projects

Isabella Kellermeier
LEARNING BY BUILDING. Hands full, senior Marcelo Gutierrez-Miranda works to exercise his passion for design in Lab’s Makerspace.
“As an artist, designer, you’re always looking for ways to validate or rationalize the time and work that you’re spending, ”Marcelo said. “It’s much harder to justify the projects that I do than it is to justify going to class every day.”

“I think most people go out to find independent studies, but for me the independent study found me,” senior Marcelo Gutierrez-Miranda said.

His interest in 3D printing started well before he got to U-High.

Marcelo said he appreciates his Makerspace Art independent study because it allows him to create freely and explore his interest in designing at the artistic guidance of art teacher Brian Wildeman.

The students who use the Makerspace room, as well as Mr. Wildeman, are free to explore projects that interest them as well as their school assignments.

“I do a little bit of private, for-myself projects, but mostly I help the students do what they’re trying to achieve,” Mr. Wildeman said.

Mr. Wildeman said his involvement with and the expansion of the Makerspace machines was sparked by Marcelo.

Brian Wildeman

“Marcelo taught me as much how to use the printers as I taught him,” Mr. Wildeman said. “I guide him more in terms of thinking of aesthetics.”

Marcelo has explored the topic with Mr. Wildeman for four years but only received credit for Makerspace Art as an independent study for one.  Marcelo is still thankful that he could turn his unique interest into a class.

“As an artist, designer, you’re always looking for ways to validate or rationalize the time and work that you’re spending,” Marcelo said. “It’s much harder to justify the projects that I do than it is to justify going to class every day.”

Mr. Wildeman has helped the science team as well as his art students in the Makerspace.

“One of the things that the Makerspace is great for is a crossover from things like science and math to art and back and forth,” said Mr. Wildeman. “They inspire each other in this space.”

Mr Wildeman said, “When [Marcelo] came to this school, he was looking for an engineering class, and there wasn’t one. Since that time, he has become much more of a designer, and I think that just was because I’m the person he found.”

Through musical theater, junior hones research skills

Meghan Hammond

Two years ago in Brad Brickner’s music history class Meghan Hammond enjoyed learning about music history but had a special interest in musicals.

In total, Meghan has seen 17 musicals. This interest was sparked after her friend got a “Hamilton” CD and would regularly sing the songs when he was with her.

When the singing wouldn’t end, Meghan became annoyed and eventually made a deal with him. She would listen to the album and if she liked it, they could enjoy it together, but if not, her friend had to quit it. After listening, she was obsessed and her love only grew from there.

As the year went on, she turned in multiple extra credit write ups on Broadway musicals she attended, but would have happily done them without the credit.

A passion for musical theater has stuck with Meghan throughout high school — culminating in an independent study regarding its history.

The experience allowed Meghan, now a junior, to grow her passion about something she is truly interested in without focusing on a grade.

“I’m really getting to personalize exactly like how I’m going into this and what we focus on,” Meghan said. “It’s more centered around me.”

Mr. Brickner completely agreed. He said he has enjoyed seeing Meghan explore a topic she loves.

Brad Brickner

“This has been the perfect independent study because she does the vast bulk of the work,” Mr. Brickner said. “I try to provide materials and resources and point her in a direction or two, but by and large she is so self motivated.”

The study has not only given Meghan lots of knowledge about musical theater, she is learning to comprehensively explore an interest.

“It’s given me good practice on going out and finding my own research and coming to my own conclusions about stuff,” Meghan said.

Within the next few weeks, Meghan will be a guest speaker and present to two sections of Mr. Brickner’s music history and music explorations classes and possibly a few other high school classes. The experience has come full circle for Meghan as she is scheduled to present to the class where she first began to research Broadway musicals.

Megan said, “Overall, It’s just a fun thing to spend my time on, and I really like doing it.”

Junior takes time to explore, studying migration, heritage


With back-to-back computers, junior Sana Shahul and her independent study supervisor, Mariah Bender, discuss the paper Sana is writing as the culmination of her study of Indian immigration into Tanzania

Every Monday at 10:45 a.m., Sana Shahul sits down with her independent study supervisor, history teacher Mariah Bender. They talk formatting and citations for a paper Sana will write as the cumulative project for independent study.

Before the period ends and it’s time for Sana to go to Biology, Ms. Bender suggests a new reading and for Sana to finish her introduction and conclusion by their next meeting. Sana agrees and steps out of the history office, excited to research a topic important to her: Indian immigration into Tanzania.

For Sana, participating in an independent study has allowed a deeper exploration beyond what a conventional class could offer.

According to Ms. Bender, Sana started her Independent Study during the second week of the school year after the two had a conversation about Indian immigration into Tanzania after the class had a discussion on a similar topic.

And they were off. The pair only meet once a week, mostly to check Sana’s progress, but she sees this as an advantage.

“In a regular class you have nightly homework that’s just checked every day, versus this where I have to do it over the course because there’s just so much I have to cover,” Sana said.

It might be a lot of work, but Sana is excited for the challenge. She finds the style of learning especially enjoyable because as a first-generation Indian-American, it’s a topic close to her heart.

“In class we learned about the Mali Empire, and we really do go deep into that,” Sana said, “but to be able to go really deep into a topic that you’re really interested in learning about I think really has a different vibe to it.”

Despite what might seem like a dry course of citing and formatting the same paper, Sana found inspiration and excitement from her solo curriculum.

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Independence days: independent study at Lab