The Class of 2023 Dan Leslie Bowden Fellows in the Humanities shared highlights of their summer research with their upper school peers on Oct. 18, presenting polished summaries of ambitious and insightful projects, and thoughtful conclusions tying their work back to the goal of exploring what makes us human. The presentations by Ian Barnett '23, Lucia Rose Dahn '23, Olivia Drulard '23, Sofia Gudino Ruffa '23, Jack Harris '23, Kyle Ng '23, Mason Signorello '23 and Liv Steinhardt '23 during assembly at the Lewis Family Auditorium spanned a diverse range of topics and drew ovations from teachers and classmates.
The eight seniors will offer more detailed looks at their projects during the Bowden Fellows Gallery Night on Dec. 5, an event at the Solomon Art Gallery open to the entire RE community. Associate Head of School John A. King Jr., the program director, let assembled juniors know they may apply for fellowships for next summer through Dec. 20, and he acknowledged the hard work of the selection committee, especially faculty members Jen Nero, Jenny Carson and Matthew Helmers.
To conclude the event, he lauded this year’s fellows.
“Thank you for your scholarship, creativity, deep insights and willingness to share to your work and stimulating ideas with all of us,” King said, adding that the Bowden fellows selection committee seeks original ideas, mature vision, problem solving, risk taking and the passionate pursuit of what makes us human. The late Mr. Bowden, King said, “would have been especially excited about these fellows.”
Jeffrey Miller ’79, whose seed donation in 2016 in honor of English teaching legend Dan Leslie Bowden created the fellowships, attended the assembly and congratulated the students during an informal meeting after. A review of the fellows’ presentations:
Jack Harris ’23
Operation Peter Pan (Pedro Pan): The Jewish Experience
Harris examined Operation Peter Pan, the mass refugee exodus of Cuba under Fidel Castro from 1960-62, through the lens of the Jewish experience and with the goal of memorializing and highlighting humanitarian efforts. Harris interviewed professors with knowledge of Operation Peter Pan, people that helped during the Peter Pan operation, and those who were from Cuba brought over through Operation Peter Pan. He focused particularly on stories from the 300 Jews among the 14,000 refugees who arrived to the United States during that time. His research concluded that the success of this secret mission derived from the quality that makes us human, the ability to support one another in trying times. “Everyone,” he said, “has a different path to freedom.”
Kyle Ng ’23
Seeking the “Human” in Reimagined Mythology
Ng researched various world mythologies in preparation for his fellowship's final product, an original short story collection drawing from ancient stories, contemporizing them and reintroducing them to contemporary audiences. During the assembly, he commented on the redemptive power displayed in the myth of Scheherazade, noting that, “This is the aim of all literature, and what I aim to do with my project.” Throughout the summer, Ng read extensively from various collections of myths in the Celtic, Near Eastern, Chinese and Norse traditions. He also traveled to the Yale University library and British Museum in London to view East Asian exhibits and access rare texts. He has been working on stories about an ancient Chinese monster called the Nian. He plans to continue writing throughout the year, concluding his project by early spring 2023. “Myths embody what it means to be human,” he said.
Mae Signorello ’23
The Soul of the Small Town: Discovering Humanity in Castine, Maine
After spending eight summers visiting the small Maine town of Castine, Signorello set out to explain how the small-town experience aids in the discovery of our shared humanity. She spent the summer connecting with town leadership and patrons, attending town meetings and events, and conducting interviews with a host of locals – a farm owner, the mayor, the school principal, the head of the historical society and others – that are now being compiled into a podcast that highlights varying themes of small-town life. The interviews shared one common thread: "Humanity," she said, "is qualified by a devotion to a reciprocal community structure." Added Signorello: "Castine exemplifies the inherently human desire to belong to a community, belonging that is derived from personal sacrifice in the interest of collective wellbeing."
Olivia Drulard ’23
Menstrual Health Education: Is it Effective?
After observing a densely crowded boat of refugees off the coast of Sardinia while traveling, Drulard wondered how women on the packed vessel could take care of themselves, especially when menstruating. Through her Bowden fellowship, she has sought to provide women across society access to menstrual information through a new website and other outreach; she also has worked to destigmatize menstruation. She has partnered with the Lotus House in Miami, doing workshops for young female residents; worked with global humanitarian inventor Alice Chun; and is currently working to convert seven research outlines into digestible essays for the website. The goal for the website is to reach a wide audience while she works to ensure that the local workshops continue. “My goal is to have my fellowship last a long time,” she said.
Lucia Rose Dahn ’23
Facilitating the Art of Storytelling: Why Encourage a Culture in Creative Writing
Dahn explored the impact of writing programs and competitions on the development of young writers, reaching out to educators and students alike. She interviewed Brigitte Kishlar and Lara Jonasson, founders of the La Plume Young Writers’ Contest, as well as Michael Bell, who has had extensive involvement with the creative writing division of the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair and Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She also surveyed 300 students who have participated in writing competitions. The insights she gathered through the interviews and surveys demonstrate how writing fosters human connection – a bridge of understanding between writer and reader. Writing for wide audiences also serves to increase confidence, motivation and writing skills. She is compiling edited interviews and survey results on a project website
Ian Barnett ’23
Innovations in Composition Pedagogy: Encouraging Expression through Classical Music
Barnett created and taught a two-week music composition course for the Greater Miami Youth Symphony with the goal of making classical composition less intimidating and more fun for novice musicians. He strove to find the “balance between rules and freedom that inspire [children] to learn necessary theory methodology.” Barnett shared an innovative approach he developed, teaching his students simple steps to create short compositions. He broke down challenging concepts – melody, harmony and voicing – by relating those concepts to elements of conversation: namely, asking and answering questions. The simplification allowed his young musicians to walk confidently through the process of writing classical music. After five one-hour sessions, all presented their own musical works. “What made me really happy is that six of eight of the students had never written music before,” he said.
Sofia Gudino Ruffa ’23
The Evolution and Societal Implications of Monetary Systems
Inspired by the book The Bitcoin Standard, Ruffa outlined the evolution of monetary systems from the beginning of time that have enabled people to exchange goods and accrue wealth. Her project examines the five major monetary systems that have evolved throughout history: the barter system; the use of practically invaluable items such as plastic; the use of metals like silver and gold; the transition to paper money; and the modern global monetary system of banking and fiat money. Each system was created to cater to the needs of an evolving society after the previous failed, and all also demonstrated how monetary systems are the backbone of civilization. “We as humans have needs that we must be able to fulfill in order to form functioning and fair societies,” she said, “and those needs are put on display through our monetary systems.”
Liv Steinhardt ’23
Of the Land: A Glastonbury Documentary
Steinhardt filmed a documentary about Glastonbury, a tightknit community in southwest England with fewer than 9,000 residents and more than 81 active faith groups. During the course of 19 interviews and 24 hours of footage, she explored how sacred spaces in the region influence the town's uniquely expressive, accepting and unified community. Throughout the centuries, the town has become a place of pilgrimage for many belief systems. “Glastonbury’s sacred spaces hold importance for people of many different faiths, but people’s shared love for Glastonian sites acts as a unifying commonality,” she said. After spending two weeks in Glastonbury, Steinhardt grew to understand that people’s humanity and benevolence – separate from their particular religious beliefs – allow for the building of a community that embraces secondary differences. “By the end of two weeks, I felt like I had become a part of Glastonbury,” she said. Watch her trailer here