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Northwest’s Ulysses Fair Offers Wealth of Diverse Knowledge

Every year Northwest High School’s Ulysses Fair allows visitors, which are mostly other students, parents, and some MCPS dignitaries, to glean an outstanding amount of knowledge on diverse and wide-ranging subjects.

For instance, this year’s Ulysses Winter Fair, held last week in the Northwest Auditorium offered fascinating insights into topics such as How Learning a Musical Instrument Changes the Brain to An Analysis of E-Sports in Western Society, from The Hidden Effects of Cartoons on the Minds of Children to How Quantum Computing May Benefit Humanity in the Future.

Last week, senior students participating in the school’s Ulysses Signature Program presented their final projects at the Ulysses Fair, which took place on last Wednesday and Thursday, with half of the seniors presenting on each day. Northwest’s Ulysses Signature Program offers students a unique opportunity to enhance their high school experience through being involved in a small, nurturing intellectual community.

The honors program, which is unique to Northwest, is a four-year experience said Ulysses coordinator Dr. Suzanne Borenzweig. “This year the students have come up with really unique topics,” she said, pointing out Tavish Young’s Social Studies in Space: The Morals and Politics in Star Wars. “It is a political science project that analyses the different types of governments in Star Wars. We also have some really amazing self-identity projects, such as the study of unconscious racial bias in schools. I am also impressed with how far and wide the students were able to go with their research whether it was being able to contact researchers that were at the forefront of human genetic engineering or quantum computing. The students stepped out of their comfort zones and contacted experts in their field and got very good responses back.”

The skills that students learn through the Ulysses Program are the skills that they are expected to know when they get to college, according to Borenzweig. The program takes them step by step through the upper-level college research process. Students in 9th grade and 10th grade take English, Social Studies, and Science through the Ulysses Program. The students then take Advanced Research in 11th grade and their senior research program in 12th grade that is where they start to focus on their own interests. In senior year, the students propose and finally complete and present their research project.

“We have one student who has done a very powerful project on gender bias in STEM fields,” said Borenzweig. That student, Jenny Ten Hagen, worked as an intern at the National Institute of Health last summer and was able to use her contacts to interview women who held high-ranking positions at NIH to get their unique perspectives on the topic.

Now in its thirteenth year, the Ulysses Signature Program accepts applications from eighth-grade students who will be attending Northwest the following Fall. The program requires students be nominated by two middle school teachers and expects students to maintain a grade point average of 3.0 in all classes throughout their four years at Northwest to remain, receives about 170 applications for the 100 spots in each class every year.

Borenzweig said the program is committed to staying small with just 100 spots available regardless of the overall size of enrollment at Northwest. “We really want the students to have the experience of being in a small learning community,” she said.

The wide-ranging variety of the topics included two that is near to many high schoolers and former high schoolers The Effects of Procrastination on Work Quality presented by Alex Madoo and Cursing: Why Do People Do It? Presented by Tuan Le.

For his study of procrastination, Madoo conducted a survey of over 250 high school students asking about procrastination. He explained that he also conducted an experience with five AP literature students, in which they each wrote two essays for class; one which they procrastinated on and did at the last minute, and another which was completed well in advance of the due date.

“I found that three out of five of the students, actually did better when they procrastinated,” said Madoo. “It made me excited because I am a procrastinator and I always felt I did better work when I procrastinated.” The findings guided his research with discovered that procrastinators are still working on the project, even while procrastinating. “I found research articles stating that when you’re procrastinating, you are sometimes subconsciously coming up with ideas and solutions to the problem at hand,” said Madoo. He also found out that many people prefer to work under pressure. “My conclusion is that while everyone is different, some people do better when they procrastinate, while others do not. It really depends on the person.”

While Le found that all human societies and cultures have curse words. And humans have been cursing since we began speaking. “Cursing, unlike conventional language, is processed deep in the right side of the brain along with emotions,” said Le. “That part of the brain is part of the limbic system, which is primitive part of the brain responsible for processing emotion and memory.”

Le concluded that cursing is done for three main subconscious reasons, emphasis, emotion, and our own heath. Beyond adding emphasis, using taboo words conveys a sense of trust and kinship to the listener. “Swearing serves as a medium for people to release positive and negative energy,” said Le. “It is cathartic in that it can help relieve stress and frustration, and swearing tends to increase a person’s pain tolerance levels, so much so, that mothers in labor are actually encouraged to curse to help cope with the pain of childbirth,” said Le.

“This is a tremendous output of work for the kids,” said the Vice President of the Montgomery County Board of Education Dr. Judith Docca, who was visiting the Ulysses Fair. “They are so ingenious, and they do such great work. They are able to explain what they are doing very clearly. These are all skills that they are going to need in the future. And the topics are not easy subjects. I talked with on girl about ADHD and another about bigotry and stereotyping, and I just learned about gaming and video game conventions. I learn something every time I come to the Ulysses Fair at Northwest.”


Top: Friends, parents, and teachers peruse the research projects presented by seniors in Northwest High School’s Ulysses Signature Program at the Ulysses Fair in Northwest’s auditorium.

Video: Tavish Young presents his research project, Social Studies in Space: The Morals and Politics in Star Wars.

Video: Ulysses coordinator Dr. Suzanne Borenzweig.

Video: Jenny Ten Hagen talks to MCPS media about her project STEM is an Old Boys’ Club: A Study of Gender Bias in STEM.

Next: Northwest senior Lewis Qualkenbush presented his project, How Quantum Computing May Benefit Humanity in the Future.

Video: Simran Sidhu talks to MCPS media about her project DNA Genetic Engineering in Humans.

Next: Alex Madoo presented his project The Effects of Procrastination on Work Quality.

Video: Paloma Sakhi talks about her project The Effects of Engaging in World Language Education Programs.

Next: Tuan Le presented his project Cursing: Why Do People Do It?

Photos by Germantown Pulse. Videos courtesy MCPS.

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