Learning the Process for Delivering Impact

Working with a High School Senior on a Capstone Project

Outside of my work at yet2, I have another very interesting “project” I’ve been working on: I’m an advisor to a local high school senior’s capstone project. Throughout the past year I’ve worked with Meghan Hanks, helping her define the scope of her senior project.

Meghan, who is soon to graduate from Souhegan High School, worked with a panel that consisted of three teachers and myself. She started with her interest in environmental issues. We discussed climate change and what a carbon footprint is. Eventually Meghan decided her essential question was, “Why are carbon footprints important?”

 Sub-essential, or supporting questions, were:

  • What is a carbon footprint?
  • What is climate change?
  • How are carbon footprints and climate change related?
  • What can one person do to reduce their carbon footprint?

The next step in Meghan’s project was do conduct research and reach out to at least one outside expert. Meghan reached out to five! Meghan found Dr. Meaghan Daly of the University of New England to be the most inspiring. Dr. Daly kept Meghan from losing hope, emphasizing that every person who makes a little effort can be part of a bigger cumulative change.  She decided to create a challenge to help people learn how their carbon footprint impacts climate change. Initially, this was to be a 30-day challenge, but was cut down to a 15-day challenge. She determined the challenge had to be really thoughtful, and had to fit three criteria:

  • How hard/easy was it to do?
  • What was the size of the impact?
  • Was it unique?

Meghan kicked off the challenge with a public meeting at the local library. She then used Facebook, email, and Instagram to publicize the specific challenges. All were designed to be very doable, but some were easier than others.

“It was interesting to see who was able to get involved, and with what,” commented Hanks. “For example, one seemingly easy challenge was to pay your bills online versus using paper and mailing in your bills. But there’s a trade-off – it’s the power that you are paying for. You might not even think about your power usage as contributing to your carbon footprint.”

Then there were the challenges some simply couldn’t participate in – such as changing light bulbs. “In theory it’s pretty simple to switch light bulbs to LED, and energy-conserving bulbs,” added Hanks. “Except some of the challenge participants were college students living in dorms. They had no ability to change their light bulbs.”

Much of what Meghan learned – and did – throughout this project is similar to how we approach our tech scouting and tech monetization projects. And it really comes down to asking the right questions and finding what will make the most impact.

In the abstract, I loved the idea of helping a senior with their project, getting the opportunity to mentor a student to use critical skills and analysis to come up with an end product and present some interesting findings. In the practical application of it, I loved working with Meghan and her teachers to take an enormous subject like the environment and boil it down to a series of 15 daily challenges to help people discover how their carbon footprint can impact climate change.

The real-world impact of this senior project is twofold: Folks who participated in the challenge now have tools to reduce their carbon footprint, and Meghan got accepted to the University of New England! Congratulations, Meghan!


Graphics courtesy of Meghan Hanks