Innovation Meets Action

Innovation Meets Action

Students pursued answers to their essential questions during Project: Pomfret.

Dressed in surgical gowns, caps, shoe covers, and masks, a group of students took turns using the laparoscopic tools in an operating room lab. At the Green Bank Observatory in the US National Radio Quiet Zone of West Virginia, a constellation of student astronomers observed and processed radio data. Here on the Hilltop, a cohort collected sap from the maple trees on Paradise Road and boiled it down to make syrup. In Pomfret’s squash courts, a team worked together to create what may someday be the next great sport or game that could soon be sweeping the country. This is just a glimpse into some of the projects our students have been working on for the past two weeks during the Project: Pomfret period.

Twenty-five project groups focused on answering the essential questions they proposed. Their work aligned with at least one of the seventeen United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and they made something, did something, learned how to do something, or did something for others, falling into at least one of four categories — hands, feet, head, and heart. 

The Beyond the Stethoscope Group visits the UConn School of Medicine.

The Beyond the Stethoscope group focused on working in the healthcare industry and explored inequalities that exist in medicine. They shadowed medical professionals at Connecticut hospitals and visited the UConn Virtual Anatomy Lab. “I really enjoyed our hands-on approach to studying the medical field in a way I could not learn anywhere else. I discovered information about professions I didn't even know existed,” said Anna Drobna ’25

The Dark Skies over West Virginia group gathered data at the Green Bank Observatory.

The Dark Skies over West Virginia group also had the opportunity to take part in a unique experience. They spent three nights in the National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ) at the Green Bank Observatory. They gathered and analyzed data with the facility's forty-foot telescope — they even got to see the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope. “Learning how to operate the radio telescope was so cool,” said Niko Gratton ’24. “We used the data we gathered to map out the Milky Way.” Studying in the NRQZ meant the group was cut off from communicating with the rest of the world. They used the time to bond with one another and study the effects blue light pollution and radio frequency radiation from devices such as cell phones have on sleep. “I enjoyed being in the Radio Quiet Zone a lot. It felt like I wasn't so tied to my phone and I didn't have to worry about a lot of things because I was disconnected,” shared Niko.

Basket-ball combines pickleball, Kan Jam, and cornhole. 

The astronomy group could have used one of the games that the Invent a New Game and Sport group created to help them fill their downtime. The athletic group spent their time playing common games and sports. Their goal was to invent something completely new that could compete with popular yard games such as Kan Jam and Spikeball. They were given challenging prompts such as three teams, no hands, and even moving backward. With each challenge, they had to specify what equipment would be needed — some included custom creations — and how points would be scored. After playing out their ideas, they came up with five unique games and one sport that could be played in a backyard in your neighborhood this summer. “This project has widened my perspective on sports. I’ve really enjoyed creating new games that my friends and I would like to play,” said Will McLean ’25. “This experience will help me try out new things and explore things I normally wouldn’t.”

Students carefully tap into a sugar maple tree on the Hilltop.

Perhaps the sweetest project of all belonged to the BYOMS (Boil Your Own Maple Syrup) group. After visiting community farms and local sugar shacks to learn the process behind syrup making, the group tapped into the maple trees in the Pomfret forest collecting thirty gallons of sap from six sugar maples. It took twenty-one hours to boil down the sap before the hydrometer read 66 percent sugar — meaning they officially made maple syrup. Eighty-six ounces of it! “It’s a long process of selecting trees, setting up taps, collecting the sap, and boiling it down,” said Paige Anderson ’24. “It’s a lot of work to get a little syrup, but it’s fun and all worth it in the end.”

While the upperclassmen worked in small groups, the freshmen spent the project period together as a class. They explored their heritage by documenting their family trees and interviewing family members. Using the personal storytelling techniques they learned, each student delivered an extemporaneous speech about a relative they consider to be a survivor.

The culmination of the Project: Pomfret Period was a two-day Celebration of Learning, during which students showcased their achievements through reflective essays, gallery walks, a TEDx event, and a project fair. No matter the project, students learned that, when fully engaged and committed to mastering something that excites them, anything is possible. 

“It was incredible to see the Hilltop transformed during Project: Pomfret,” said Director of Experiential Learning Doug Litowitz, the coordinator of Project: Pomfret. “Between being locked in an escape room designed by students, admiring the glowing stained glass creation in the Dining Hall, enjoying the raucous playing of Clapper in the gym, hooting and hollering during the frightening original production of The Lu House in Hard, eating crepes in the restaurant created in the Lodge, or being mesmerized by freshman telling the stories of their families to a packed house, students and faculty engaged in transformative learning experiences and made interpersonal connections far beyond the classroom.”

See more photos from Project: Pomfret.

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