Passion and Freedom, Community and Change: Three Harmony Senior Projects

by Denise Breeden-Ost

Denise is a Harmony parent (of Glen, interviewed for this article) who also graduated from Harmony in 1989; her senior project was on creative writing.

Every Harmony senior spends their last semester exploring something they’re passionate about, through a project of their own design. I interviewed three of our current seniors, and learned a few things about the Harmony Senior Project experience in 2020:

There are as many paths as there are passions. There is no “typical” senior project. This year’s seniors are exploring topics as diverse as music production, gaming mathematics, art in education, and prosthetics design.

The three students I spoke with are taking a variety of approaches: Reed Evans is exploring biology and sustainable agriculture, including conducting an experiment in hydroponic growth mediums. Glen Breeden-Ost is hosting and producing an interview-style podcast on business and entrepreneurship, with guests from the business community in Bloomington and beyond. Griffin Bongard is building his own kayak out of red cedar, ash, and canvas, and will take it on a camping trip down Sugar Creek.

A taste of life in the adult world. All three students talked about the challenges and delights of greater independence.

Griffin: “I have loved this semester. I’ve never really been good at the whole 9-3 schedule. I love being able to wake up and choose when I want to work–or I don’t feel like working today, but I can work extra tomorrow. Motivation hasn’t been an issue with the kayak-building part; when it’s time to sit at the computer editing video, I’m certain that self motivation will be a challenge.”

Glen: “It’s absolutely great. The biggest benefit is that I get to make my own schedule, and focus on what I care about. The biggest challenge is balancing work [at my job] with my project, because there’s not a set time to work on it.”

Reed: “I’m taking college classes, and I have an internship and am working. I control my schedule–but it’s more work overall. It’s completely different from going to class every day. You have a whole semester to work and learn about things.”

“Plan B”: Change, mistakes, and surprises are all part of the learning process.

Glen’s podcast project began with a focus on venture capital, but broadened as he connected with more people. “The first episode was an interview with the director of a nonprofit foodservice incubator. I liked learning more about the nonprofit world; I got way more interested in it than I thought I would.”

This is Reed’s first experience of designing and conducting her own scientific experiment. “It’s been a steep learning curve. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and that’s been a little frustrating–I like to do things right the first time. But having to adjust the way I think and do things has been very interesting. I accidentally grew some crazy mold along with my Arabidopsis plants, because the containers were too deep. Now I’m using trays instead of individual planters, so they’re exposed to more light and air. That was one of the most influential mistakes–and the stinkiest!”

When I talked to Griffin (at his grandparents’ house in California, where he’s building the kayak), he was frustrated by the weather: “We have the whole frame done, and we stretched the skin over it a couple days ago. The very last thing I have to do is spread a polyurethane coating over the whole kayak, to make it strong and waterproof. Its got to be about 65 degrees outside, and it’s only been 51. I’ve done 100 hours of work, and now I’m just waiting…” He’s made a backup plan; if he can’t get it done before his flight home, his grandfather will put the coating on and get the kayak ready for shipping.

Community makes it possible. Each student highlighted different ways they’ve been supported by Harmony’s network of resources and generosity.

Griffin: “The whole project will cost me about $2,300. It’s money that I don’t really have, but I made a GoFundMe, and raised $450. There were names I’d never seen before coming in and donating money! It was really exciting to see that there was a whole community out there supporting me.”

Reed: “My science teacher, Erica, put me in contact with my mentor, Dr. Maxine Watson, who helped me get the space in the Jordan Hall greenhouse. That made it possible to do my experiment easily and cost effectively. Buying the tables and equipment for hydroponics to put in your house would be very expensive.”

Glen: “Roc gave me contact information and suggested that I interview the people in Columbus, Ohio, and San Francisco. [Harmony parent] Gerry Hayes is my mentor. [Former student] Dmitri Vitze gave me the idea to do a podcast, and suggested I attend the Flyover Podcast Festival last November. [Former teacher] Jeremy Goodrich got me studio time–the podcasting studio is his baby.” The cover art for Glen’s podcast is being done by a Harmony grad who is now at Pratt Institute.

Following your passion in your own way; managing your schedule and motivation; welcoming change, learning from mistakes, and having a backup plan; staying connected to a supportive community. What a useful cargo of experiences and lessons to carry into adult life! These conversations showed me all over again what a gift the Harmony senior project is–and how these young adults are making the most of the opportunity. I look forward to celebrating with them in May.

— Initial interviews were done in mid March 2020. I followed up a couple of weeks later to find out how these seniors’ projects are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. —

Reed is taking her Ivy Tech classes online now, and with the closing of Jordan Hall, she lost access to her hydroponics experiment. “That’s disappointing. I only have nineteen days of data–which is something, but it doesn’t answer what I was trying to answer. So now, instead of presenting a lot of tables and data from my experiment, I’m writing more in-depth articles on the topics I’m exploring.”

Glen had to say goodbye to the podcasting studio at The Mill, but continues to create podcast episodes. “I have to do my interviews online, by Zoom.” He’s considering an episode focused on a local business that’s affected by the pandemic.

Griffin spent his last three weeks in California quarantined in his grandparents’ house, and came home earlier than planned. “I’m lucky that the outbreak started after I’d mostly finished the kayak–there’s not much I need to be doing right now. And I don’t need to be around people to finish my project.” Funding the project has gotten harder, though: “Once I got home, I was looking forward to working–grinding and making a lot of money–but now I’m getting scheduled for two-hour shifts.”

Post-graduation plans are shifting, too.

Griffin’s financial adjustments may extend beyond the end of high school: “I was hoping to save money this summer, so I could have more options in the next couple of years, but now it looks like I may have to wait longer. It’s not really changing my plans, as much as postponing them.”

Glen is waiting to see how the timing works out: “It depends. If college classes are still online-only next semester, I might take a gap year. I don’t want to start college online.”

Reed was planning to take a gap year anyway. “Ideally, school will be back in session for 2021…I guess we’ll see.”

Quotes have been very lightly edited for length and clarity.

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