Advancing Diverse Instruction Since 1878 — My day as a sophomore

By Bart Bronk
Head of School

Head of School Bart Bronk is shadowing a student in each grade level to experience the University Liggett School approach through the students’ eyes.

One of the most persistent educational myths of the last three or four decades professes power of individual “learning styles” to impact the educative process. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the notion that each individual had a learning style – be it auditory, visual, or kinesthetic – that worked best for him or her, and others that decidedly did not work, swept the globe. Incredible resources were poured in to helping teachers diversify their instructional styles and identify, and cater to, what worked best for each student. As recently as the mid 2010s, some 90% of teachers professed belief that this idea was indisputable.

Recent advances in neuroscience, however – chief among them the ability to monitor brain activity in real time, via MRI, during cognitive activities – and a wave of scientific reviews critical of flawed research that failed to meet the rigorous scientific conditions necessary to prove that such individual predilections exist have largely debunked this theory (see this terrific article from the April 2018 Atlantic if you are interested in learning more).

The reality is that our brain, which advances in neuroscience continue to prove is far more complex and interconnected than previously imagined, learns in all these ways. Each of us is capable, excepting those with diagnosed sensory processing issues, of learning through sight, sound, and touch, and we all employ all of those tools in learning processes in appropriate measure depending on the task at hand. A teacher catering to one exclusively and intentionally provides no tangible benefit.

The best teachers then, of course, use their own toolboxes of instructional strategies that cross these sensory boundaries and create learning opportunities that are diverse and engaging.

That’s just what I experienced in my day shadowing sophomore John K. Our day began in Ms. Kendall’s yearbook photography class, where John and classmates were engaged in the visual exercise of selecting and editing photos based on desired traits – composition, color, and tone – and learning about what makes a photograph particularly engaging to the viewer.

In Senor Carunchia’s intermediate Spanish class, we were immersed in an auditory/verbal learning process. Students mastered the future tense in small group conversations about their upcoming weekend. Interestingly, rather than give English counterparts for Spanish words he was using that the students had not yet encountered, the teacher used visual cues – hand motions – to indicate the word.  The exercise was both practice and performance – valuable skills for our students to have.

In Mrs. Galea’s chemistry class, we participated in a sweet – quite literally – kinesthetic exercise. To kick off their study of stoichiometry – the study of chemical reactions – students were using ingredients and their Bunsen burners to make S’mores and discovering what limiting reactants were (in this case, chocolate).

Continuing our experience in STEM, Mr. Hartigan’s algebra II class was a powerful example that visual learning itself can be diverse. Rather than simply relying on symbolic images – numbers and operators – to introduce the students to logarithms, graphs and real world examples related to velocity and distance were used to illustrate how logarithmic relationships work.

We ended our day in the Mr. Guedes’s U.S. history course, which focuses closely on the history of the city, state and region, where students were working in a team on projects to communicate their understanding of the reconstruction era in Detroit. Their final project was to create an Escape Room – in the upper school faculty lounge no less – which required demonstrated knowledge of the era to solve physical clues. In teams that ran the gamut from research to puzzles to refreshments, teams worked on creating a kinesthetic experience that reflected their deep understanding of the topic.

I regularly profess my admittedly biased belief to students that there is “no such thing as a bad day at University Liggett School.” This day, on which I experienced learning I could hear, see, touch – and even smell and taste – was a great one.

Advancing Flexible Thinking Since 1878 – My Day as a Senior

By Bart Bronk

Head of School Bart Bronk is shadowing a student in each grade level to experience the University Liggett School approach through the students’ eyes.

I found my guide, senior Maria P., in second period yearbook class in the school’s Mac Lab. She and her classmates dove right into the work, each finalizing a set of pages for the first submission of this student-produced annual publication, which was due in a few days.

As the advisor, Mr. Pangrazzi and the editor, Maria, checked in, team members were engaged in a variety of tasks, including writing, editing, photography and graphic design. I was struck both by how independent –and yet interdependent, as students sought feedback from peers throughout –their work was, and how the class demanded flexible thinking and problem solving in the pursuit of a tangible outcome in ways that mimicked the real world.   I could have just as easily found myself in a newsroom on deadline or corporate marketing department and seen the same traits and skills displayed.

Intellectual flexibility and dexterity were indeed the themes for the day. After community time, we attended ARP in which seniors worked on their individual projects. Maria benefitted from an extended dialogue with her instructor Dr. Larson in choosing which path her project on the role of neuroscience plays in criminal behavior and the criminal justice and corrections systems might take.

Mr. Butzu’s Shakespeare class featured an engrossing discussion on the motivations of Polonius related to his daughter Ophelia, her relationship with Prince Hamlet, and his own standing with King Claudius in which students capably drew support for their interpretations from two texts – the Bard’s original play and Kenneth Brannagh’s filmic interpretation. So compelling and well supported were their arguments that Mr. Butzu confessed to having his “weekend plans ruined” by the students’ challenging of his own longstanding interpretations of the play.

The power of student voice and intellectual risk-taking were equally amplified in Dr. Lam’s Eagle and the Bear course on U.S.-Russian relations. Student presentations on Russian’s information warfare tactics and recent aggressions against Ukraine in the Sea of Amoz were followed by team meetings on group research projects; Maria’s group is investigating the role of the Space Race in the 1960s as a proxy front for the Cold War.

The day ended with a standard deviation scavenger hunt in Mrs. Harris’s probability and statistics class, in which student teams of two (selected via random probability, of course) encountered and solved real world problems related to standard distribution. The level of movement – and enthusiasm – was certainly unlike the math classes I remember!

I ended my day as a senior heartened by Maria’s estimation that it was a “pretty typical day at Liggett.” If “pretty typical” means intellectually energizing, student-centered, and dynamic, we have a lot to be proud of.

Sports stadium economics in two cities

Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium+Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena – how did these two landmarks contribute to the cities they call home is the focus of Matthew Monsour’s ARP.

You started out with a much bigger scope of studying the economic prosperity of both cities, but narrowed it down to a more digestible look at each city’s sports stadium. Walk us through your research.
Sure. I decided to focus in on three areas of interest: funding, impact on housing, and other workforce issues. I found the funding part of this very interesting, and learned that the majority of Little Caesars Arena (LCA) funding came from private sources, and the rest came from tax incremental funding, or TIF, on city buildings. As the building taxes increase, a portion will go to finance the arena, and will pay it off over 30 years, and also fund other projects. In Atlanta, they used a simple extra service tax on hotel rooms, and some private funding.

In Detroit, no housing was displaced because LCA was built on a vacant lot owned by the Illitch family, the owners of LCA. As part of the agreement, two buildings will be made into affordable housing, the Eddystone, and the United Artists Theatre Building, which will be mixed residential and office space.

Workforce was most impacted by LCA. By executive order, more than 50 percent of workers on the project had to be Detroit residents, and 30 percent of contracting firms had to be based in Detroit. More than 60 percent of the firms were located in Detroit, but only 27 percent of workers came from Detroit, so $3 million in fines were levied by the city. The fines contributed to training programs to kickstart the workforce.

Your brother and sister were also lifers at Liggett. Did they do ARPs?
My sister was the second class to do an ARP, and she focused on obesity in the U.S. I don’t know all the details, but I’m sure she still does! My brother did an internship instead.

What are your favorite Liggett classes?
American Government and the American Electoral Process were my two favorites. I’m really interested in the political process and I had a great time taking those classes last year. It was great how they lined up with the election. I’m currently in a class on the Middle East, and we’re learning about the Arab-Israeli conflict. It’s so complicated, so I’m interested to sit and learn what is going on. I really enjoy it.

What else do you like to do?
I’m a drummer, and in college, I’ll probably expand on this. I love to play golf, hang out with my family, exercise, and keep as busy as I can throughout the day. In college, I’m hoping to study business, real estate or business law…and work on music.

What benefit have you enjoyed from attending Liggett?
Liggett has helped me make connections outside the community, and encouraged me to stretch out and be independent. Liggett allows you to take that step to initiate discussions and ask questions. I like how they let you have your own voice and lead things. Having that responsibility prepares me for the coming years, and it’s great to have the trust of the faculty to do the very best you can.

Internet for the World

George Gotfredson knows how the free flow of information can impact lives. He shared insight into his research on global Internet.

Your original thoughts for your ARP focused on the high cost of college. You decided against that in favor of a focus on the impact of wireless internet on developing countries.
Yeah, the first idea involved a lot of spreadsheets. So, I switched gears. Internet is integral to our lives, and I wanted to study how giving access to those around the world will impact their education, their health, their agriculture, their everyday lives.

I focused on viable solutions to providing Internet access, and analyzed four solutions. The first is Google’s Project Loon, which involves hot air balloons with mini cell towns that beam internet down. There are a lot of challenges with scale, and little way to monetize. The second is building infrastructure, which is difficult in unstable governments where land ownership isn’t as clear cut as it is here. Also, it’s not as appropriate for rural areas. A third is Aquila and its software arm, Aquila is a solar-powered, lightweight aircraft that flies for 90 days and brings Internet to the areas below. is code that people can download onto their phones and offers a basic version of the Internet, with no videos or images. Both are by Facebook. The final solution is probably the best one right now. It’s called OneWeb, and it’s a mass-produced satellite that could be launched and provide signals to user terminals. It’s being tested right now.

Wow. That’s comprehensive. How did you choose to go the tech route?
I’ve always been interested in technology and the tech that goes into these projects is important. It was great to compare the specifics of the technology, and the feasibility—who has the best solution? Will it be the most effective?

Here’s the question you are being asked a lot right now: next year?
I’m going to the University of Richmond in Virginia to study piano performance and business, and I might minor in organ performance. My life goal is to never have a boss, because I want to be the boss. I want to be an entrepreneur.

How has your experience at Liggett prepared you for your future success?
Liggett has a curriculum that can be morphed around students’ interests, especially with project-based study. Teachers give you the framework, and encourage you to dive into what you are interested in, and your learning builds on itself. In middle school, we learned the basics of how to do research, and rounded that up in eighth grade science. As freshmen, we learned about reliable sources and how to cite them. And there’s a real connection between the students and teachers; it sounds cliché, but it’s really unique. Plenty of teachers help students with their ARP, even if they aren’t the student’s teacher. Whether it’s math or engineering, they always help, and are interested and willing.

Any lifelong memories to share?
One thing I will remember is the Pleasant Lake outdoor education experience in sixth grade. As a junior you can apply to be a counselor, and you can go back as a senior. That experience is by far the most fun I’ve ever had. It’s a blast. You build relationships with counselors, and then it’s more fun going back as a counselor. It’s really, really cool.

Individualizing treatment for a rare disease

Kelly Solak shared insights into myasthenia gravis, and how a snapshot tool can help direct physicians to the best treatment.

What is myasthenia gravis and what is the focus of your research?
Myasthenia gravis is a rare neuromuscular disease which affects the muscles of the body. It’s a very rare autoimmune disease—only 20 people in 100,000 have it. It can affect a person’s arms, or legs, or torso, or their breathing, or the muscles in their eyes. It usually presents itself in women in their second and third decades of life, or in men in their seventh or eighth decades.

Because this disease is so varied and individual, there is not a straight treatment route. I’m focusing in on a “quality of life survey” that will take snapshots for two weeks to help determine the best treatment. The survey has 15 questions that you ask one or two times a day. Instead of asking something like “can you walk up the stairs?” or “can you hold a carton of milk?” it asks “how long can you walk up the stairs before becoming fatigued?” This helps create a concise treatment route for the patient. It’s very specific.

I consulted with Michal Haran, M.D., at Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot, Israel. She developed the original quality of life survey, and I built my project around her survey. Also Abbas Jowkar, M.D., who is in the Department of Neurology at Wayne State University School of Medicine, sponsored my research as a principal investigator. It was a long process, but I have met a lot of great people in the field. It’s difficult saying you are a high school student doing a project because they are busy, but if they are willing to take the time to help you, it’s pretty amazing.

You have personal experience with this disease.
Yes. My brother has this disease and he got it when he was 16 or 17 years old. His name is Kurt and he attended Liggett as well, and graduated in 2016. He’s 20 now.

What other topics were you also interested in pursuing for your ARP?
I’m a hockey player, so something regarding sports medicine. Women’s hockey is not as dominant as men’s, so maybe something about anatomy or sports management related to hockey. We were encouraged to choose something we are interested in but won’t get bored of. I play hockey four times a week, and add a project about hockey on top of that? This topic is definitely outside of my comfort zone.

How do you manage your time?
I prioritize. I bring work to the rink and do it with teammates. I also work as a waitress and barista at a bistro, and I love reading. I talk with the librarian who hands me new books when I come in. I read historical fiction, most are in the WWII era, I’d say.

I learned how to do correct research, find the right information, the right sources, and how to write in a scientific way. I gained confidence in reaching out to people. I also learned an appreciation for doing something different, not setting barriers, and never saying something is too big. It’s better to do something too big and reach a little farther than high school normally permits you to. In four years, you are out of high school, and on to college, and in the life after, you are more prepared. I had to start my project from scratch, and my inspiration was my brother. I also had help from my dad in approaching situations.

Research that could change lives

For her ARP, Kaelan Patel jumped into medical research that could be used to treat sickle cell anemia, and shared with us what she learned.

Your topic is currently being researched at a pretty high level: a gene therapy called CRISPR/Cas9.
Tell us about it.

It’s an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, which were originally found in bacterial DNA. Bacteria used these repeats as a way to fight off infection, and doctors experimented to see if they could manipulate human DNA to fight off invading illnesses as a model after the bacterial CRISPRs. They discovered that they could create CRISPRs that could be guided to exact locations of genes by R

NA molecules to attack mutated sections of the DNA that cause life altering ailments such as sickle cell anemia (SCA). Then, the Cas9 protein in human DNA cuts the mutated section of DNA so a donor DNA template that has the corrected sequence to heal is inserted. I have decided to focus my research on SCA because it is a devastating and painful disease. Currently, patients suffering from SCA only have three options for treatment, which include a drug called hydroxyurea, blood transfusion, and bone marrow transplant.

You worked with mentors locally at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, and at UC Berkeley. What were these experiences like?
I worked both with Dr. [Michael] Callaghan from the Pediatric Hematology Clinic at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, and Dr. [Jeffrey] Corn, from UC Berkeley. Dr. Callaghan offers the perspective of using current treatments, and I had the opportunity to interview all of his patients over the summer to talk about their treatments, as well as how SCA affects their daily lives. I learned none of the patients had heard of CRISPR/Cas9. At Dr. Corn’s lab, I experienced the equipment and processes used to collect data that will prove CRISPR is safe enough to start human clinical trials. They are getting close to the numbers they need to earn approval.

What are some of the other topics you considered?
Stem cell therapy to treat disease, and also CRISPR/Cas9’s use in treating cardiovascular disease, which has environmental factors, and high efficacy rates for current treatments. SCA is a monogenic disease with few environmental factors, and no effective treatment for patients who suffer intense pain and shortened life spans.

What is the most challenging thing about presenting this topic?
There is so much to say and only one poster board and three minutes to talk! For people to comprehend the topic, I need to define a lot of material to make it understandable to someone who is learning about it for the first time.

Diving in to her ARP

We asked Emma Leonard to explain why marine mammals struggle to coexist with a military presence in their waters.

Your ARP focuses on something a lot of people know very little about: the effects of military sonar on cetaceans, specifically whales.
Yes. Sound is the most important thing in the life of whales. They use it to find food, and change diving patterns all year to find the right temperature of water for mating and birthing. When the military started using mid-frequency sonar after the Cold War, this resulted in a drastic increase in cetacean strandings. What’s happening is the whales and the sonar are interfering with each other, and whales are suffering from decompression sickness from moving up and down too quickly in the water.

You seem to have a passion for marine biology.
I do. My parents met in California, and I have family out there, and we have always visited the ocean. And it’s just so unexplored. I have a thing for outer space, too, but we know more about space than we do the oceans, which cover 75 percent of our planet. Too few people are exploring the waters, and there is so much to be explored.

What else are you passionate about?
In eighth grade, I wanted to be a fashion designer. My mom went to fashion school and worked for Levi’s, and we have bonded over fashion. I work on costume design for the fall and winter theater shows at school, and have every year since I was a freshman. I’m a visual person, a very visual learner.

How will you be presenting your ARP?
I realized my project would be more engaging if I did more than write a paper and cite my sources. I learned that it’s important to recognize that I had to make my own connections and use outside sources to shape them. I had to use my own brain. So, while I wasn’t going to build military-grade sonar, I used Arduino, with a board and wires and coding system. I was able to figure out the ping is in the 40,000 Hz. I realized people don’t know a lot about sonar, so I will do a demonstration with a meter stick to get people to understand how it works under water. I showed this at the Detroit Science Fair where I played the sound of a frequency that we can hear. I won a Naval Science Award for environmental management.

When we take the first course in ARP, people think it’s annoying, but by the end of senior year, you recognize how the experience gives you issues to really talk about, as well as research skills, citation and science writing skills, all of which will be helpful in college and the rest of my life.

What’s next for you?
I’ll be going to the University of Colorado at Boulder because they have an ecology and evolutionary biology program, plus one of the best physics programs, so I’ll minor in geophysics. Their honors program allows students to do a four-year honors thesis, so I can continue with the project I’m doing now, or choose another project to study instead.

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 of Research 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.”

What’s Your ARP? We asked senior Abigail Hung

Your ARP is about orthopedic reconstruction of the equine distal limb, which refers to a break in one or more of the bones from a horse’s knee joint to its hoof. You describe this type of fracture as one of the most devastating injuries in horses. How do you see your ARP making an impact on horses and other equine animals in the future?
Repair procedures must allow for the horse to stand almost immediately following surgery, and the current standard is locked plate fixation. It’s fairly straightforward. Plates are placed underneath the skin, and screws or wires are fastened in place to stabilize the area. While successful, the use of metal heightens the risk for infection and rejection. I’m working to come up with a repair alternative, another procedure, or a product that makes it easier for the horse to heal. The injury I’m researching is so devastating to horses, in part because their skeletal structure is built so that horses can’t redistribute weight over the other three legs without causing damage. I’d like to decrease recovery time and fatality rates following this injury.

How do you expect to present your ARP at the end of the year?
I’d like to use the standard poster board method to share my results, but I would like to have a physical product as well. My goal for my ARP is to design and produce a product which would work with the body’s natural healing process, allowing for faster recovery time and, hopefully, fewer complications. I’m in the development stage right now since it’s the beginning of the year, and I’m mapping out my research plan now. There’s a long road ahead!

How did you connect with your expert mentors?
My mom is from Alabama and she went to Auburn University, and my dad taught there for a while. My godparents have two friends who are professors at Auburn in clinical studies and I took the chance to talk with them. Dr. R. Reid Hanson corresponded with me, even though he was in Germany at the time. Dr. John Schumacher also gave me some good information. We discussed some high-profile cases, in particular Barbaro, a horse that won the Kentucky Derby, but shattered his leg in Preakness. We talked about why the surgery wasn’t successful and he recommended a book called Equine Surgery, which was very helpful. A wonderful thing about Liggett, though, is that our teachers have experienced so much. Ms. Dann knows so many people who can help me, and those in my class. They really can connect us to a multitude of resources.

What skills have you gained as a result of your ARP?
Organization and research. I’ve learned how to research something, where to look, and how to reach out to professionals in a professional manner. That will help me in college and certainly if I decide to become a researcher some day.

What have you learned about horses that surprised you?
Thoroughbreds are genetically predisposed to develop the horse version of osteoporosis, and much of this is with breeding. They have a lighter, thinner frame, like a greyhound, which is more aerodynamic, but more likely to break a bone. With thinner bones or higher porosity, the horse is lighter, but more fragile.

What’s Your ARP? Five questions with Liggett senior Craig Buhler

Share with us the short version of your ARP.
I’ve always been interested in sports, and especially sports medicine. I learned that one surgical procedure in particular, Tommy John Surgery, is used widely on major league pitchers to repair ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tears. I wanted to investigate that, and learn if there is an alternative to this procedure.

What experts have you talked with so far?
I have talked with Dr. James Andrews in Atlanta, who is a well-known orthopedic surgeon, and has been around since the 1970s. He has performed numerous surgeries, and he explained his thoughts on the increase in Tommy John Surgery. He believes that there are many younger players who specialize just in baseball, which leads to more stress, resulting in tears that require surgery. Dr. Andrews also shared his knowledge of possible alternatives, like stem cell therapy. He said that more research needs to be done on PRP, or platelet-rich therapy, and primary repair therapy, which is a little different from Tommy John Surgery. Now I’m working to contact another doctor for more perspectives and digging in to see if there are any studies about stem cell therapy or other alternatives. I’ve had help from Mr. Bronk, our headmaster, on reading the medical research. He’s a really smart guy.

You also spent time with pitcher Alex Wilson in the Detroit Tigers dugout. He had Tommy John Surgery. What did he share with you?
Alex Wilson told me about his experience, and offered his advice to younger baseball players and college athletes. He shared with me that he knew something was wrong because he was having sharp pains, and then felt the ligament tear. Recovery from surgery takes about 15 months, but his recovery took only 10 months, which I found interesting. The advice he gave to athletes is to treat pitching like it’s a job. Don’t over throw, and definitely play multiple sports.

What skills have you developed through your ARP and how do you think you’ll use them in the future?
I’ve learned a lot about the value of collecting data from different perspectives, and about using primary and secondary sources. I know how to get the main point of what is being said, and how important it is to do thorough research, and to figure out which resources are credible and which are not. Taking into consideration different perspectives is important. I’ll be using all these skills in college, especially when doing research.

What do you like to do when you’re not working on your ARP?
I play golf, and tennis in the fall. I have recently picked up squash, and I play rec league basketball in the winter. I also love food and like visiting Detroit restaurants. Vertical has a great burger, and Parc in Campus Martius is tremendous.