The Academic Research Project: High-Level, Immersive Growth

Liggett graduates say they enter university head and shoulders above their peers because of the academic rigor and challenges they faced as students at Liggett. They are already experienced in critical reading, research assessment, and exploratory questioning – even more so if they completed an Academic Research Project, or ARP, while at Liggett.

The ARP is like no other high school assignment. For two years between 11th and 12th grade, Upper School students live and breathe a topic that springs from their own individual interests and passions. They dig deep, ask big questions, and consult trusted resources. Then, under the guidance of a Liggett teacher-mentor, they create a research proposal before diving in to immersive, research-intensive work.

“We teach the kids to start big, and then narrow it down,” explains Shernaz Minwalla, Assistant Head of Upper School, Dean of Student Life and ARP director at Liggett.

Liggett students aren’t just Googling or wandering the library stacks — they are assessing existing research, validating resources and querying subject experts. “All 12th-graders make some form of contact with an expert in their field of study,” Minwalla says. “Some even do their own authentic research. One student worked at Henry Ford Research Institute under the guidance of a researcher. Another worked collaboratively with an orthopedic surgeon.”

The ARP subjects are a diverse as the students’ interests. Some are medically focused, while others embrace specifics of engineering. Some parse geopolitical movements, scrutinize the impact of historical eras, or dissect the implications of art forms on a specific population. Some students produce products or find solutions to challenging global problems. One student even obtained a U.S. patent on his design.

When a student can make a meaningful connection through the ARP, all students benefit. “We welcomed the National Theatre of the Deaf for a workshop for a dozen students after school,” says Minwalla. “What a great partnership. It’s fabulous.”

Collaboration allows current Liggett scholars to connect with grads who walked in their footsteps just a few years earlier. Last year, a student in his final few semesters of a physics degree from the University of Michigan supported a Liggett junior to help him create his final iteration of his research proposal. It was a beautiful connection between a mentor who has completed university-level research and a student embarking on a full year of hard work, strong-footed on a focused path toward discovery.

At the end of each academic year, graduating seniors participate in the Celebration ofResearch to showcase their projects and cap off the ARP. It’s an event that is well attended by Liggett graduates, and offers teacher-mentors the chance to mine experiences to better the ARP program.

“Those who have just graduated from college, in particular, are able to share what got them to where they are now,” Minwalla says, adding that teachers are able to continually evaluate the Academic Research Project program based on feedback from these Liggett alumni — the very first who have completed the ARP in 2013. What was then a voluntary opportunity for interested students, the ARP became a part of the Liggett curriculum in 2017.

“They value the program, and during the Celebration of Research, they will come back and see how the program has evolved,” Minwalla says. “It’s a meaningful event for both our students and our alumni.”