On Thursday, January 24, the St. Mark's 15-Minute Lecture series featured presentations from students who had received grants to help fund special projects.
On Thursday, there were presentations from four VI Formers—Tom Paugh, Justin Zhang, Rwick Sarkar, and Ethan Student.
Last spring, Tom Paugh and Justin Zhang received a grant from the Matthews Educational Fund to travel to the Republic of Palau in the western Pacific to do research. Their original focus was on Palau's role as a Japanese base during the Second World War, but they soon became caught up in Palau's ecosystem and culture. "We came for military history," said Paugh, "and came away learning much more than we expected." Zhang and Paugh managed to visit 12 of Palau's 16 states. While Paugh did use his research to write a paper for the St. Mark's History Fellowship program questioning the necessity and validity of the costly Battle of Peleliu there in 1944, the final presentation from the two St. Markers included information about the horrors of modern war, the history and politics of the nation, observations about ancient monoliths, and a great deal concerning Palau's Ngardok Nature Reserve. "They cultivate a seriously sustainable mindset," said Zhang, and his takeaway was that "we must preserve the natural beauty that is given to us."
Rwick Sarker received his grant as part of the Kean Fellowship program, established by the St. Mark's Class of 1962, to honor Tom Kean '53, their teacher, advisor, mentor, and friend. After teaching at St. Mark's in the early 1960s, Kean went into public service and politics, eventually serving as governor of New Jersey for two terms and as co-chair of the government commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks. The purpose of the Kean Fellowship is to enable students to explore important public policy topics. Sarkar chose the topic of public policy around environmental issues, and his 15-Minute presentation was entitled "Environmental Stewardship 101."
The Kean grant allowed Sarkar to attend the Young Environmental Stewards Conference in Maryland this past summer, sponsored by Washington College's Center for Environment and Society. Participants in the conference traveled through the Chesapeake Bay watershed by kayak to study its permaculture and on a research vessel to take soil and water samples. "You definitely have to get your hands dirty," said Sarkar, echoing what one of the conference's leaders had told him. "Sustainable practices" were a focus of the experienced, and to reflect a commitment to environmental policy, Sarkar and his fellow conferees created a Declaration of Environmental Values under the heading "We Speak for the Rivers." The preamble declared that "conservation is a priority and protection of the Earth is deemed critical for all." The policy declaration covered issues like climate justice and how to enable a society of responsible and reliable sustainers. Individual action, noted Sarkar, is important, but in order to be a real instrument of positive environmental change, there has to be government policy and regulation. Sarkar showed a short video about Iceland's progress in this regard (Iceland is currently the second-most environmentally friendly country in the world). The need for environmental and community stewardship was a big takeaway from this experience.
Ethan Student received a Class of 1968 grant. The St. Mark's Class of 1968 created this fund to provide opportunities for students to participate in a fellowship program or independent project the summer before graduation. Student's project was to design and construct a custom truck bumper suitable for off-road driving. "This project," he says, "helped further develop my passion and education in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, mathematics, and physics." Student designed detailed renderings, created cardboard mock-ups to ensure viability, and then built his bumper out of high-tensile strength aluminum. He also added a light bar, and he brought his completed bumper into the Parkman Room for his presentation. He also had photos of the design and construction process as well as of the bumper affixed to his truck. Purchasing a commercial bumper for the same purpose would cost $2000 or more. His DIY project, however, saw him design and build his own bumper, just as suitable and effective, for less than half that cost.
Each year, more than a dozen students receive Matthews, Jones, Kean Fellowship, or Class of 1968 grants in order to expand their curricular horizons. These 15-Minute lectures were well-received by an interested audience, and they demonstrated the opportunities that St. Markers have to turn their interests into actions.