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Middletown Life

Illuminating their chosen pathways

Apr 09, 2021 12:00PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Ken Mammarella
Contributing Writer

Appoquinmink School District’s capstone portfolio is a graduation requirement and a commitment.

It includes work in all four years of high school and demonstrates growth in students’ chosen pathways. The district’s two high schools offer 25 pathways, in eight conceptual schools that focus on academics, trades and the civic good.

The portfolio is capped by an immersive project. “Students will identify a problem that is related to their pathway and then spend 50 hours researching the problem and possible solutions, working with industry partners to direct their research and their solution,” according to a district guide.

Here are six of this year’s most interesting capstone projects. They include work on increasing the efficiency of solar panels, uniting STEM students across America, planning a fine-dining restaurant, making a no-spill measuring device, providing loans for individuals doing home improvement projects and using artificial intelligence to watch animals.

A clever solution to the mess of measuring

Appoquinimink High seniors Kylie Taylor and Megan Tarr wanted their senior project to be “a solution to something we overlook as just an inconvenience,” Tarr said.

The inconvenience: the inaccuracy, mess and time lost in cleaning while using measuring cups.

The solution: The three-part Cuppl, which you dip into a container of, say, flour. One part has holes to measure 1, ½, ¼ and ⅛ teaspoon. A base slides on the bottom, and when you slide on the top, it levels the quantity you need. What’s in the closed Cuppl can be cleanly transferred to the mixing bowl. When done, the pieces can be separated and washed.

The Cuppl’s name is a vestige of their earlier idea, focused on cup-size measuring.

Taylor and Tarr have been friends since preschool. Taylor is a home baker, and Tarr has gotten much more into cooking and baking during the pandemic.

But they didn’t use just their perspective. They researched previous solutions. Tarr surveyed dozens of high school and college students on what they wanted in a measuring device (such as appearance, size, self-leveling capability, variety of measurements, anti-spilling quality and the ability to see what’s inside). Taylor talked to Janine Crawford, her boss at Pop in Artisan Pops in Middletown. They were helped by their mentor, Adam Binkley, of TA Instruments.

They used software to make 50 sketches and selected the best to prototype on the 3D printer that Taylor owns – and uses. She previously made a slide to mark the dishwasher as clean or dirty.

And “I designed a model of the insert that holds the tape rolls in a desktop tape dispenser because teachers/students at Appo kept losing the inserts that held the tape rolls, and would then have to throw away the entire tape dispenser. My engineering teacher helped print out the model for some of the other teachers to replace the inserts that had been lost.”

In college, Taylor plans to major in mechanical engineering, and Tarr plans to major in biology.

“Was the solution successful?” they ask in their project PowerPoint. “Yes,” they answer.

And since the project was completed months ago, they know it was successful in another way: Perfect grades.

Visualizing a fine dining experience

For Appoquinimink High senior Aaron Wallace, fine dining is a passion, how his family celebrates their birthdays and his planned career.

“I’m just drawn to that lavish, fancy style,” he said, recalling how he has long been fascinated with cooking and has enjoyed helping his father in the kitchen and at the grill.

For his capstone project, he created the concept for a restaurant called Azwall’s: A Fine Dining Experience. His work included the menu (heavy on Cajun food), the décor (elegant), the music (mellow) and the business analysis of the concept’s strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats.

Because of coronavirus guidelines, none of his senior-year culinary classes were in a kitchen, but he had mentoring from Alex Schiff, executive chef at Eclipse Bistro, and Carl Georigi, founder of the Platinum Dining Group. “It’s been an amazing journey,” Wallace said of all things that he has learned so far. When asked for an example, he offered how he’s incorporated blanching in his repertoire.

He’ll be learning more at Johnson & Wales University, where he’ll major in culinary arts.

Wallace said he admires the “distinctive and classy” work of Gordon Ramsay, and his menu for Azwall’s includes pan-seared chicken from Emeril Lagasse, called poulet Tchoupitoulas, served with Southern cooked greens and an optional andouille sweet corn bread pudding.

He kicked up his style more than a notch to celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in 2020. His mother Gail was served baked salmon with lobster mac ’n’ cheese. His father Edward was served grilled steak, with a garlic butter sauce and blue cheese crumble, plus roasted potatoes and asparagus.

Wallace hopes eventually to become a head chef and open his own restaurant. For real.

Coated solar panels are cleaner, more efficient

Middletown High senior Mark Wise has always been interested in “the concept of generating energy from the sun.” That inspired his capstone project on solar panels. He also liked that solar panels benefit nature by reducing the dependence on fossil fuels, and they help humans by providing electricity. He worked with Don Hafer, a retired civil engineer, to mentor his research and development.

Wise focused on how to increase the efficiency of solar panel by avoiding the buildup of water, dirt and other substances, and his solution was to use a nanotextured hydrophilic coating. “Nano” is very small – a human hair is 40,000 to 80,000 nanometers wide. The “textured” part is about creating pockets in the coating that trap air. “Hydrophilic” is all about being attracted to water. The bottom line is that the coating makes the water just roll off and never reach the solar panel. Apple last year debuted a nanotextured coating on its iMacs, he offered as an example.

Wise applied two coats of the liquid coating to half of a panel, and it cured into a solid. He left the other half untouched for comparison testing, now continuing in Milton, his family’s new home.

Early results have been promising. The coated panel has been easier to clean, and more importantly, the power output has been at least 10-15% percent higher, he said. The coating makes the panel look dimmer and tinges it yellow, but those are only cosmetic issues.

He hopes this summer to continue tests on a larger panel, even though the capstone will be over and he’s a graduate. But first, he needs to finish his Eagle Scout commitment to build bluebird houses at the Blackbird Creek Wildlife Reserve.

Wise plans to major in mechanical engineering at Purdue University and hopes for a career in renewable energy. “Something that would change the environment,” he said.

The STEM Society of America fills a void

The Science Olympiad was canceled. Ditto the Math League. Same for the science group known as HOSA. Middletown High students Victor Shi, Collin Bowers and Raaj Pednekar were bummed. “Why not create our own opportunity and fill the void?” Shi asked his friends.

They started filling the void with The STEM Organization of Delaware and expanded into The STEM Organization of America. They went live last spring as

“Our organization is completely digital and free,” Shi said. “We use our platform to help students across the country to develop and showcase their STEM skills.” They did so through The National At-Home STEM Competition. Students at Harvard, Stanford and Yale judged the 45 projects.

With their own mentoring by Eric Loftus, the district’s finance director, they also provided webinars, mentorships, sponsorships and peer tutoring, he said. “It took a lot of time, but it was worth it,” Shi said, figuring that it’s taken 120 hours so far – far above the 50 expected of a capstone. Shi chose it as his capstone, but the others did not.

If these friends scatter for college (Shi plans to major in molecular biology), what will happen to their organization and site? They’re debating that now.

“The best thing that came out of this is that building a community can be very hard work,” Shi said, “but in the end, the building is important, and the skills we needed are very important to have.”

Helping the community and improving their skills

The importance of helping the community, the mundane elements of bureaucracy and mentoring that’s continued after the capstone was completed last fall were all parts of a group project to make Middletown a better place to live.

“We were able to see in Middletown there are families struggling,” said She’Anna Hammock.

She and three other Middletown High students met with Tim Deschepper, Middletown’s town planner, on issues facing the town as its population explodes from its 19th century core.

It’s about “addressing the needs of our community,” said Lindsey Hallett.

The quartet developed prototype protocols for low-interest loans and grants for needy people doing home improvement products and promotion of environmentally friendly products for the home, like solar panels. “I have a passion for the environment,” said Karina Hallett, Lindsey’s twin sister.

It was all branded as the United Financial Housing Project

Their mentors were Lynn Watson, of the Brown Brothers Harriman Trust Co. and University of Delaware business professor Jennifer McCloskey.

Nylah Whitaker, who plans to major in information systems, said her takeaways included “working well in a group setting. And even during the pandemic, I got to do a big project that has a big impact on the community.” Another impact: “Zoom calls about our future with our mentors.”

“It was a very long journey, and our mentors were amazing,” said Hammock, who plans to major in economics at Morgan State. “Our mentors gave us ideas and structure. They made our work look professional and taught us about professionalism.”

“I learned a lot about time management,” Karina Hallett, who plans to major in business at Delaware Tech, said of balancing schoolwork, sports and her teammates’ schedules.

Animals and artificial intelligence

Like many a scientific theory, one capstone project this year – focused on artificial intelligence and animals – evolved. A lot.

At various times, there was talk about Disney’s Animal Kingdom, equestrian farms, dog kennels, a Maryland zoo, the Brandywine Zoo and the Urban Wildlife Information Network. Bobcats, rabbits, squirrels and foxes were involved; so were flour, sand and enrichment items. “An enrichment item is an item that will get some kind of response from the animal, for example a ball or a snack that will change the way an animal is behaving in its enclosure,” Middletown High senior Gwen Radecki said.

The final version involved designing a data capture system for small animals on trail cameras across Delaware, said group mentor Matt Saponaro, founder of A.I. Whoo, a local artificial intelligence startup with expertise in ethically capturing data in outdoor spaces. They’re also looking at paw prints. Motion-detection cameras can easily catch big animals, but there are problems with small ones.

The paw prints are recorded because the lures, baited with food, are dusted with sand. The sand will also pick up rubbings, markings and scat, said Appoquinimink senior Justin Wham.

The tech will kick in in helping to advance the medical history of animals spotted. “We’ll give them a little snack, and we’ll get data,” said Wham, who plans to major in marine biology through the Student Excellence Equals Degree program at Delaware Tech, then the University of Delaware.

“Their work is on par with peer-reviewed” work done in universities, said Saponaro, who received a doctorate in 2020 from the University of Delaware. “Overall, the group we’re working with have demonstrated they will be leaders to take science to the next level.”

Radecki reacted strongly to one interim concept, on using artificial intelligence to replace zookeepers and veterinarians in monitoring animals. She felt A.I. was “incapable” of the task. “Every single animal will show injuries and illnesses in a different way,” Radecki, a future nursing major, said. Instead, she wrote a research paper justifying her dissent.

Appoquinimink High seniors Ethni and Serene Abiy got involved because they both loved animals – so much that they became vegetarians at age 6 after watching documentaries on the food industry.

“Whatever happens, we record,” said Ethni, who plans to major in biology or animal science.

Serene, who plans to major in biology and eventually in veterinary medicine, is looking forward to “getting a better understanding of animals’ behavior” in the project.

Appoquinimink High senior Nick Satterfield was also a project member.

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