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In Menlo IP, Students Chart Their Own Course

Menlo IP Offers Students the Opportunity to Take Ownership of Their Learning and Explore Their Passions

As Menlo IP wraps up its inaugural year, 27 students—11 Arts and Letters Scholars, seven Global Scholars, five Community Engagement and Impact Scholars, and four Civic Leadership Scholars—will have completed either a semester-long or a yearlong IP project on a range of topics. Projects have showcased a range of topics and student interests, and from the experience, scholars say they not only got to explore something they are truly interested in but also gained independence, real-world experience, and self-confidence in their abilities as students.

Senior Bella Scola’s project, “Imaginary Words,” combined research in literature, psychology, and philosophy with her passion for photography to explore the question “How do you connect to the people in your world?” The end product was a set of mini photography exhibits and an accompanying booklet that detailed the inspiration.

“When I was doing the project, I didn’t feel like a student. I felt like I was an adult going through the process of an actual project that you could be doing for a company or for yourself. It really gave me a special feeling, like I am an adult and I know how to actually work in a workforce and I understand how to do creative work, which is what I want to pursue… I was on a high for about two weeks after I finished it because I was so proud that I had done this project—I’d finished it and I’d done something that made my parents and my grandparents and my aunts and uncles incredibly proud.”

Andy Fisher ’19 took on a project looking at how local corporations and public policy impact our community, specifically the cost of housing. He interviewed leaders in city government and a spokesperson from a major technology company as well as a nonprofit that supports local affordable housing initiatives and examined the difficult balance Bay Area communities currently face as thriving technology companies attract high-paid workers and drive up the costs of local housing.

“I wanted to stretch my learning beyond the limits of a traditional classroom setting. [Through Menlo IP,] I was inspired to challenge myself creatively…and become the master of my own learning…[It also] prepared me for real-world responsibilities. It improved my time management skills while also forcing me to think critically. These skills will pay dividends in my college studies and beyond.”

Combining her interest in virtual reality and art, senior May Li’s IP capstone uses virtual reality as a tool to enhance our ability to empathize through a project about the environmental issues related to the recent California wildfires. May researched how virtual reality works, partnering with Menlo’s Tech Department to learn more about the technology, and investigated its psychological impact prior to designing her exhibit, which will feature computer-generated imagery along with her own prose.

“The IP program has given me the confidence to undertake more projects in the future and be more comfortable with being uncomfortable, in having to learn new skills or experiment with newer mediums. It’s a great way to be deeply involved in something that’s really interesting to you personally and do solid independent work.”

Over the summer, Nico Monsalve ’20 was experimenting with a topic in computer science centered on coding virtual voice-enabled assistants. He found it challenging and fun and thought it would be interesting to pursue the idea in more depth as an IP scholar. He decided to undertake a project to code the Google Assistant so it is better able to foster critical thinking to enhance its use as an educational tool.

“I believe that the best way to learn is through having fun with a topic and playing around with it yourself. In computer science, I have learned most through coding self-driven projects where I am eager to find a solution no matter the number of setbacks. For me, the IP program is a perfect template for this kind of learning.”

For her IP project, senior Nina Chandra completed an internship at the campaign headquarters of California gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom and then analyzed the strategies and tactics of the 2018 California election.

“The Menlo IP program provides a framework for students to do things they actually want to do. The IP program] allowed me to not just pursue an internship I was interested in but also digest the experience at a deeper level through reflection and assessment…I learned a lot about my own tendencies as a student as well as about California politics…it helped my development as a student and a person.”

Natalie Jarrett ’19 has long thought she would pursue writing as a major in college and possibly as a career. For her IP, titled “The Meaning of Form: Analyzing and Replicating Poetic Forms from an Array of Cultures and Time Periods,” she wanted to delve deep into the forms of poetry as well as create her own works based on these forms. In completing her semester-long IP she published her poetry as an ebook and one piece was picked up by a literary journal.

“This experience taught me the power of self-learning and solidified writing as something I want to seriously pursue throughout my life…I recommend the IP program for students who are independent and have a serious passion that they want to pursue in their own way.”

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