Upper School | Gr. 9-12
The Van Eney '09 Fellows Program

Where Are They Now? A Look at the Van Eney ’09 Fellows Program

Written by Carolyn Campion for the Summer 2018 Odyssey Issue of The Bridge (abridged version)
In 2008-2009, eight Severn seniors embarked on a yearlong project to pursue intellectual interests outside of the traditional classroom setting. With the help of on and off campus mentors, they researched, experimented and built their way toward realizing their individual passions — with purpose. Ten years later, the Van Eney ’09 Fellows Program, formerly Severn Fellows, is still going strong.
According to Head of School Doug Lagarde, “When I started this program, the hope was that we’d introduce the world of ideas, not for the sake of grades, not for the sake of strictly academic performance, but for the sake of something that students really wanted to pursue. We wanted to underline the difference between academic and intellectual pursuits.”

Senior fellows receive neither a grade nor academic credit for their efforts, and yet the program continues to grow year after year. According to the Program Director Ms. Kelly Wilson, 28 juniors submitted proposals for fellows projects this past spring, representing almost a quarter of the class. “The program is not just for ‘tech’ kids or ‘high-fliers.’ It is about pursuing passion and learning, regardless of discipline or area. For that reason, it appeals to a diverse group of students.”

In its 10 years of existence, the Van Eney ’09 Fellows Program has graduated 97 students, each with their own story about the project and the path it led them on thereafter. We caught up with a few program alumni to ask them about their experience.

Noah Pyles ‘09, Fellows Project: The Muslim Brotherhood

Severn School alumni Noah Pyles
Can you explain your project in a sentence or two?
My project was about the origins of the Muslim Brotherhood and its founder Sayyid Qutb. I looked at his experiences in America and how that shaped his teachings in the Middle East.

What inspired you to pursue this project?
It was actually through a conversation I had with my Current Issues teacher Mr. Marc Buckley. We had talked in class about the different revolutions going on – Egypt was starting to boil over at that time. At the same time, I was learning about the Muslim Brotherhood through an independent project. When I told Mr. Buckley that I was interested in pursuing a Fellows Program on this topic, he was really supportive and encouraged me to apply. He became my advisor for the project and showed me how to turn my interests into something more tangible.

How did you present your project to the Severn community?
I put together a big paper for Mr. Buckley and presented a lecture to my classmates and the committee. I presented a history of Muslim Brotherhood and explored how Sayyid Qutb reinvigorated this more conservative movement in Islam and Egypt.

Where are you now?
I am in my first of five years at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. One of those five will be an independent research year. One of my goals is to eventually run my own lab. That senior fellows project was the first time I dipped my toes into something so large. I remember enjoying being able to adapt as I gathered new information. That’s the same thing that I like about scientific research – the creative latitude to adapt to new situations and information, to ask new questions, and make progress, although not always ending up where you thought you would.

Courtney Richeson ‘11, Fellows Topic: Magazine Display of Severn Events

Severn School alumni Courtney Richeson
Can you explain your project in a sentence or two?
I designed large-scale magazine layouts of Severn events and activities, from the beginning to the end of the year, to display in the spiral staircase of Creeden. The main idea was to follow the timeline of the year as you walk up the stairs.

What inspired you to pursue this project?
One of the great things about the program is that you get time to work on something long term and produce a big project. For someone like me, interested in design, that was intriguing. I was the yearbook photographer at the time and had tons of extra photos. I wanted to visually display all the great things that Severn was doing for visitors and prospective students to see as they walk through the staircase. Thus my idea was born.

How did you present your project to the Severn community?
I set up my large-scale magazine layout boards in the auditorium and explained my process to a panel of advisors, as well as peers, parents, faculty, and other members of the community. Then, I asked the audience to walk around to get a closer look. Immediately after my presentation, my work was hung up in the stairwell. I really enjoyed watching my peers get excited about seeing their own picture on the wall. So many students thanked me for including them in the project.

Where are you now?
I am a project designer at VINES Architecture in Raleigh, N.C. We focus mainly on public projects — cultural, higher education, libraries, etc. I love the firm I am at right now, but I will be leaving soon to pursue a Master in Architecture degree at Harvard’s School of Design. This is something I have been excited about for a long time.

My fellows project confirmed that I had a passion for design. When I went to North Carolina State University, I knew right away that I wanted to pursue it professionally. Knowing that from the start, I was able to earn degrees in Environmental Design in Architecture and Architecture. In a sense, my fellows project was my first studio project before I even knew what they were.

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Click here to read the full version of the article including an interview with Grace Rudder '12 and highlights from our 2018 fellows!

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