SAN FRANCISCO – The Residence Hall was quieter than usual on Thursday December 14, the day before projects were due. In every common space, students were working, and all the room doors were closed, a rare sight for this social cohort.

The students finished up the fall term with a final project, a research paper related to one aspect of a big question. Groups of four were assigned to one of 59 questions that they will continue to explore together in the spring. Final project groups broke down their question into smaller topics that they would individually researched in the fall semester. There were three major differences between final projects and other assignments: there was more freedom in the topic to research, HCs were used in the context of these topics, and there was collaboration and an exchange of ideas between students.

Because there was some choice in the topic for these research papers, it was an excellent opportunity for all students to explore something they are interested in. Students had the option to dive deeper into something they already have a strong background in, but it was also a chance to test something out if you are unsure about it. With no commitment to a major or longer-term internship, they could explore something they might not have devoted time to otherwise.

Minerva emphasizes the interdisciplinary aspect of the academic program and the variety of final project topics made the connections clear. The HCs also provided a framework for comparing questions from different areas of study.

For example, using evidence to support an argument is important in all fields, so it is relevant to all of our questions. Students in topics ranging from health to media to art could use the same HC. This allows us to compare and evaluate applications of our skills in different contexts and see how all of the classes relate to each other.

During classes and assignments, many students felt frustrated by the emphasis on the HCs without substantial content in the courses. Final projects were different from other assignments because it was the first time in their time at Minerva that the class of 2021 got to research a question they were interested in. The topics were from all fields including sciences, media, and technology. Applying the HCs in context helped to solidify the students’ understanding of them.

The class of 2021 also got to use their peers as resources for this assignment. Countless surveys were posted on the class Facebook pages. Close to the deadline, students read over each other’s papers and gave feedback. This was one of the most exciting parts of the process because each essay was different. When peer editing assignments, students usually have an idea of what will be included, but this was not the case for final projects.

During two First Fridays, monthly Minerva events on various personal and professional development topics, students worked on different aspects of final projects. In October they started brainstorming big questions before the deadline for submission to the academic team. Part of the activity was to read each other’s tentative questions and give feedback to make them stronger. This exchange of ideas was exciting because it fostered a culture of sharing ideas and information. Even among the first year class, there is an extraordinary wealth of knowledge which started to become apparent in the final project process. Questions were ultimately submitted individually, but it was a collaborative effort because students could choose from a list of questions from peers and civic partners.

The November First Friday was the first time final project groups met. They discussed the breakdown of their big question. Groups of four students were assigned to one of 59 questions. Within these questions, each group member chose a sub-question and wrote an individual research paper in the fall. At the end of the First Friday, there was another opportunity to share with someone in a group with a different big question.

Of course, after the deadline, there was an informal celebration at Bob’s Donuts. Over 20 students made the trek up Polk Street from the Residence Hall and filled the tiny donut shop. As some students said goodbyes for the break, everyone got to reflect on how far they have come since September and look forward to continuing their Minerva journey in January.

As anticipation for break grew, so did excitement for civic projects and final projects (part two) next semester. Final projects set the stage for engagement in the city in the Spring. Students will use them as a springboard to talk to civic partners and integrate more into the San Francisco community.

Below are brief descriptions of a few projects from M21.

Final Project Spotlights:

How can we educate homeless adults in Tenderloin neighborhood SF using modern technology like the ALF to let them fit into the competitive job fields? Asmaa Aly

My final project worked with adult homeless people in the Tenderloin neighbourhood. I worked with them to know the potentials and skills of these homeless adults. My study worked with six people, and interacting with them enriched me with much experience and warmth from them as they were telling my their stories.

How could Minerva students effectively integrate environment-friendly practices in their everyday lives with a least possible amount of expenses? Peter Song

I tackled the energy efficiency aspect by comparing two colleges with different location and school size to see existing solutions. My final project question is “How do students at Boston University and Pomona College practice energy efficiency in their daily lives?” The paper compares and contrasts their energy efficient practices on the individual (e.g., student), the group (e.g., student government), and the collegiate level (e.g., college projects, senior members that manages college’s infrastructure).

How can we build Machine Learning models to improve the learning experience on the ALF? Mohamed Gad

The project is mainly about how to improve the learning experience on the ALF by using machine learning. I compared the different techniques of machine learning, and weighed their pros and cons to reach the best one that should be applied.

How might we ensure responsible antibiotic use in SF to stop the formation of drug resistant bacteria? Erin Paglione

In my paper, I examined the current plans to address antibiotic resistance globally and in the US. I zeroed in on one simple but effective initiative to put up poster-sized letters in physician offices that affirm the doctor’s commitment to antibiotic stewardship (using antibiotics only when necessary and in the most efficient way). The preliminary study I read showed a 9.8% decrease in unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions which could make a significant impact on antibiotic resistance.