The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders

Our Global Community: Seniors Take on Semester-Long Capstone Assignment

in ARS News by

In December, the ARS seniors took the first steps to selecting a topic to pursue in the much-anticipated Senior Capstone project. For this semester-long project, the senior class was split up into eight different groups featuring a mix of media technology, biomedical, and engineering students to research and innovate a solution for a real-world problem presented by a real-world client. Hear from this year’s group leaders about their topics, goals, and what they’re looking forward to about this year’s Capstone solutions:

From left to right: Back row: Alejandra Wait, Adelia Owens, Isabella Aguilar Nettie Comerford, Tahliah Rebollar, Ryanna Henson, Priscilla Olmos. Front row: Emily Perez, Rinda Gray, Yanis Armador.

Not pictured: Yadira Iglesias, Alejandra Wait


Peeking in at Ms. Joanna Lucero’s science classroom, Team “Coral-ful Oceans” gathers around several tables to research and explore the effects of human activity on the Earth’s oceans.

“Officially, our capstone is coral reef deforestation,” group leader Isabella Aguilar (12) said. “[Our name] is kind of a play on words since we want the ocean to be full of corals, and corals are colorful.”

Despite the magnitude of the issue, the group has currently focused its efforts on gathering information to share with their greater community, and have learned a lot about a somewhat overlooked topic in the process.

“I’ve learned a lot about corals, they’re really important,” Aguilar continued. “I feel like we’re not going to come up with a solution, because we’re not actual scientists and we have a very limited budget, but I think the more important thing is just raising awareness about it, because I think a lot of people do things that they don’t realize contribute to coral reef deforestation.”

Another challenge the group has encountered is who to approach as a client for their company’s proposal.

“Our client is Mother Earth,” Aguilar joked. On a more serious note, she adds: “once we do get a client, [our focus] might change and we might try to come up with something, but as of right now our solution is educating people.”

One of the most unique facets of the Senior Capstone is the large group project format. In a company of twelve students, the class has the potential to get hectic, but Coral-ful Oceans has experienced smooth sailing.

“I really like my group,” Aguilar said. “I feel like we’ll work well together, and once we have a client I feel like we can hit the ground running.”

With the flexible nature of the Capstone group classes, each company can develop habits in mindfulness, assignment of job titles, and other weekly traditions that enhance the experience for the group.

“We kind of did a little ix-nay on the whole ‘titles’ thing,” Aguilar explains. “Everybody is kind of a CEO, but we don’t really have designated people to do certain things. I go to the meetings with Ms. DiCuffa, so I’m kind of that delegate.”

Team Coral-ful Reefs has come up with another company practice, a “celebrations board” that is unique in its attention to community and collaboration.

“It was Ally [Wait] who came up with that,” Aguilar explained. “It’s just like, when somebody does something well, we recognize it. We’ve only used it once, but we’ll continue it now. That’s been nice because I feel like sometimes we need a little motivation to keep going.”

From left to right: Back row: Erica Guajardo, Ebheni Henderson, Keira Neal. Middle row: Yolanda Tierrablanca, Aly Cerda, Annabel Martinez. Front Row: Michelle DeLeon, Anna Cruz, Cindy Mondragon, Stephanie Labrador


Natural light seeping in from the courtyard windows, Team “Homes Through Stars” meets with a local pastor to discuss his experience with their Capstone focus of homelessness in Austin.

“Right now we’re partnered with Front Steps [Homeless Shelter and Resource Center] and we’re creating an app so that the public knows what they need,” group leader Ebheni Henderson (12) said.

For now, the group is concerned with how the local community can get involved with local homeless resource center Front Steps, one of the handful of businesses that approached ARS with a pitch for a potential Capstone project at the end of last year.

“So far we’re making sure that the public knows what Front Steps is, what they’re for, how they help people, and how the public can help Front Steps,” Henderson elaborated. “Right now we know that creating this app is going to take about two weeks, and so we’re going to try and find another way to incorporate what we’ve researched. ”

With this particularly difficult topic, talking with their client and other organizations who have experience with assisting homeless individuals as well as spreading awareness in Austin is a key part of Team “Homes Through Stars” approach.

“Right now, the City of Austin created a ticket system so if a person is under a bridge then you can give them a ticket,” Henderson explained. “Once a month, the city comes through and takes all of the homeless people’s stuff, so we need to make sure that we give them stuff that they can keep in their backpacks and they can take wherever they need to go so they won’t always have to start over.”

With a lot on their plate, the team acknowledges that starting small is probably the best way to handle the issue.

“It’s a lot to tackle, so I think we’re just going to try and stay in the Manchaca community,” Henderson said. “Hopefully, if it works, then we can spread it to the rest of the city.”

Regardless of the challenges, the group has hope that their solution to this issue will be of some effect.

“[I’m excited about] helping some people,” Henderson concluded. “Or like, creating a solution that is going to help lots of people.”

From left to right: Back row: Anais Arechiga, Shana Fnu, Cynthia Puga, Carmen Whitten, Dana Nichols. Front row: Yvette Castro, Brizaizet Olascoaga, Krysta Herrera.

Not pictured: Giani Bright, Georgia Moore, Ezra Morales, Emily Ownby


Circled around a raised conference table in Ms. Sarah Walker’s journalism classroom, Team “Spoil to Soil” is another group whose topic was brought to the school specifically for Capstone

“Our group mission is to help Wheatsville with their composting issue,” group leader Anais Arechiga (12) explained. “I think we do have a bit of an advantage since we’ve already identified our client, so we can go back and forth and really know what they need and what we can do for them.”

The diverse collection of students in the group has led to a variety of ideas for solutions; from reaching out to local elementary schools to starting a service hour component for composting on the ARS campus.

“I think the most exciting part is just going to be being able to work with such a large and diverse group of people,” Arechiga said. “The people in my group, but also my clients and the many people who are going to help us get resources and whatnot. I think the people aspect is going to be really nice, and of course, the final product is going to be really rewarding.”

In the large-scale group setting there will always be challenges, and while most groups consider time management to be an issue, others, like Team Spoil to Soil are concerned that every voice won’t be heard.

“Since there are a lot of people, there is a lot of communication,” Arechiga described. “A lot of times, the problem in projects is the lack of communication, but I think it won’t be too bad. I think we can all work well together.”

From left to right: Back row: Roberta Sarkodee-Adoo, Zaira Ruelas, Brenda Vazquez, Diana Garcia, Araceli Rodriguez. Front row: Luisa Silva, Brianna Plaza, Mariana Monroy, Savannah Gonzales

Not pictured: Gus Flores-Rascon, Emmaline Jeansonne, Julia Martin, Sarahi Villalobos


Just across the hall from Team “Spoil to Soil”, Capstone Team “Baby Blues” takes on a topic that combines women’s issues with mental health initiatives.

“Our group is focusing on postpartum depression,” communications director Brianna Plaza (12) elaborated.  “We’re talking to new moms so that way they already have the resources for what they need to take care of a child but also what they need for themselves. Our goal is just mainly to spread information and make sure that this issue is out there.”

Along with a few other Capstone groups, this team hopes to develop or innovate an app to provide advice and services for new parents.

“I guess [I’m excited about] seeing how we can make an app considering none of us have any experience that far into coding,” Plaza said. “Our app name will be Stork.”

One of the main requirements of Capstone is to develop a unique solution, so one of the challenges for groups like Team “Baby Blues” who focus on app development is to make sure their app doesn’t already exist.

“I think coming up with an idea that isn’t there already [will be a challenge],” Plaza said. “Since there are some resources already out there I guess ours will be just making something that’s completely new.”

From left to right: Back row: Haley Loan, Lisette Costilla, Ava Lindquist-Sher, Karen Cramer. Front row: Jackie Galvan, Annika Lopez, Jenie Jamies, Paola Escobedo

Not pictured: Keyla Blanco, Vivianna Jaimes, Rebecca Lopez, Tia O’Laughlin


In contrast with the more global focus of some of the Capstone topics this year, Team “Star Stitch” strives to solve a problem all too familiar to ARS students whose growth spurts often exceed what their shorts and polos can handle.

“The main thing we want to focus on is the effect clothing has on the way we perceive ourselves and the way we actually perform,” group leader Ava Lindquist-Sher (12) expressed.

While the concept for the group’s solution to this problem initially started as an after-school tailoring tutorial, the innovation-minded members soon developed a more modern solution.

“We’re thinking about making a website, and in that website, it makes it easy for you to be able to have blueprints on what to change in your clothes,” Lindquist-Sher explained. “We want to have a program where you plug in your dimensions and it makes a digital dress form. After that, plug in a shirt that they want to tailor and our software basically makes all of the changes that need to be done with the shirt, like where to cut, where to sew, and things like that, and it prints it out.”

One aspect of the Capstone project Team “Star Stitch” has prioritized is the inclusion of input from all three pathways, with a current focus on engineering.

“Karen’s aspect of it has videos for the engineering part on how to tailor a skirt,” Lindquist-Sher said. “It makes it easy to understand what to do with the actual skirt to fix it, and then you have resources to tell you the technical aspects if you don’t have experience in tailoring.”

Like other groups dealing with website or app development, Team Star Stitch finds that time is the biggest challenge to combat while completing this project.

“A lot of it has to do with programming, and basically it would be helpful if we had ten years of programming experience each,” Lindquist-Sher added. “But we don’t. Trying to do it within this time constraint is going to be very difficult.”

While the target audience of this project is younger students, at the end of the day the group draws on personal experience as ARS seniors to help conceptualize a solution.

“I personally really related to [this issue],” Lindquist-Sher revealed. “I’ve had a lot of difficulties finding clothing that fits me because of my body type, and so this is something I can give to the next generation and leave behind as a legacy and I think that’s something really beautiful.”

From left to right: Back row: Apolonia Vasquez, Willow Dalehite, Julie Apagya-Bonney, Anabel Perez, Julia Mendoza. Front row: Eleanor Bailey, Beatriz Ruiz, Maddy Schell

Not pictured: Becca Alonso, Vania Neri, Sierra Walton


Crowded around a couple of desks in the warm glow of Ms. Shireen’s Dadmehr’s classroom, Team “Bloom Outreach” starts each Capstone meeting with a check-in question that gives each member a chance to reflect on their day.

“I’m actually really happy with our group,” group leader Becca Alonso (12) disclosed. “It’s just a bunch of really cool people, and it’s really diverse. We all have a bunch of cool ideas.”

With their task of assisting the ARS Foundation with encouraging donations from younger demographics, Team “Bloom Outreach” has also found a client that’s close to home.

“Our site visits are a little interesting since technically our site’s on-campus and we can just go down the hall,” Alonso said. “We’ve been kind of broadening our horizons and are meeting tomorrow with a PR group to learn more about how they approach our same [donor] situation.”

While the Foundation already has a system in place for reaching out to donors, the focus of this group is to innovate the current situation the Foundation is dealing with to add more accessible information for younger demographics.

“What the Foundation wants us to do is, like, construct an extra part of their website specifically for young donors and initiating fun tidbits for donors to have,” Alonso explained. “Like, ‘Sponsor a Star’ is one of our ideas, where we would take pictures of a random ARS girl and send an email to a donor and say ‘this is what your money is going to.’”

As with many of the other groups, Team Bloom Outreach is feeling the pressure of upcoming deadlines and considers the time wasted to be a big issue hindering the group’s efficiency.

“One thing that’ll be a challenge is that right now [is that] a lot of our group has been absent,” Alonso joked. “Youth and Government really of set us behind because a lot of us are in there.”

From right to left: Jennifer Molina, Ishajanek Overton, Areon Bradford, Diana Alvarez, Cynthia Rodriguez, Hilaria Juarez, Capri Johnson, Erika Rountree. Center: Jurnee Jackson

Not pictured: Dimanique Henderson, Ash Pellette, Emma Pineda


Tucked next to the gym foyer in Ms. Jill DiCuffa’s STARS classroom, Team “Ignition” has high hopes for their solutions to allow a smoother transition for students returning to school after spending time in alternative learning situations like the AISD Alternative Learning Center (ALC).

“Our initial idea was to make a documentary with two students who are at the ALC about their life and their life at ALC,” group leader Jurnee Jackson (12) said.

As this group soon learned, since Capstone deals with real-world clients, things don’t always go as planned.

“We talked to our client, and she said that we specifically can’t do students,” Jackson explained. “That kind of changed the approach of that idea, since we wanted to send it out to students at schools. [We want] something like a PSA about people generalizing and putting them on the “delinquent” label and making them change their mindset, saying that these are intellectual children that just had rough times.”

The inclusion of all the pathways has also proved to be a challenge for the group, but with collaboration, Team “Ignition” sees a bright future for their solution to this sensitive topic.

“One [challenge] is that it’s a media tech-inspired project, because there’s not really much we can do, like Bio-Med and engineering stuff, like we’re not making anything,” Jackson said. “We have six people in media tech in my group, so it’s going to be really fun working with them and doing media tech, and also teaching the other people.”

From left to right: Back row: Maggie Saucedo, Citlalli Franco, Lily Yepez, Claire Lungwitz, Odessa Dukes, Jessa Torres. Front row: Alexis Cobarrubio, Ruby Suarez

Not pictured: Kelsey Atkins, Esperanza Duran, Emily Weaver


Spread across brightly lit lab tables in the middle school science hallway, Team “Plants and Rec” takes on the issues of mobile gardening as well as accessibility for disabled communities.

“We’re creating little gardening kits that senior [citizens] can take home and make,” leader Kelsey Atkins (12) shared.

A main focus of the group right now is how to form a solution that can satisfy the two disparate topics as well as the three pathway components.

“Engineering is super easy,” Atkins explained. “Media tech can make a video of, like, how to put it all together, but I don’t know how Bio-Med is supposed to be included in this project.”

Even with the challenges ahead, the group is excited about being able to get hands-on with a physical product for the Capstone solution.

“I’m really excited because we haven’t been able to do a simple just building project in so long,” Atkins laughed. “I’m really excited to just plant some plants and make gardening kits, and maybe see some really cute old people.”

Georgia Moore is a junior and the Creative Writing/Literary Magazine editor for the newspaper. She loves being able to do writing exercises with the newspaper class, and also loves all of the food they eat. She is also an artist who loves to doodle in class. Her favorite TV show is Parks and Recreation.

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