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Junior Projects: Purposeful Engagement Beyond the Ridge

John Nagler
Mission Principles: Compelling & Connected Academic Program, Connection to Local & Global Communities, Dedication to "Best Fit" College Search
One of my favorite things about being the 11th Grade Dean is helping define junior year as a transformative experience. Too often—and I think this happens all over the country—junior year is seen as a crucible: either you thrive and get into the college of your choice, or you don’t. At Pacific Ridge, junior year means so much more. Not only does our wonderful college office demystify the college process by emphasizing “the right fit,” the 11th Grade Team also helps each junior gain critical perspective on this step of their education. Far from being a crucible, junior year is an opportunity to gain a better sense of self, surrounded by a supportive and caring community.
The Junior Project presents an ideal opportunity to gain perspective on high school, college, and the twists and turns of life. Modeled after “The Corner Office” feature in The New York Times Sunday Business Section, the Junior Project asks our students to consider the ingredients of a successful life. The catch is how we define success. Our definition is broadly based on the ability to pursue your passions professionally, not simply a measure of your college degree, income, or job title.
Students began by identifying their own interests and passions. Using the power of networking in small groups, students then identified people in the greater San Diego area who share the same interest or passion. Then came the hard part. Each junior reached out to their contact and set up an in-person interview. As almost everybody learned, scoring an interview can be pretty tough. But with a little persistence and audacity, each student met with their contact (or sometimes their plan B or C) and conducted an interview. The beauty is that every contact was happy—if not eager—to set aside time and explain how they arrived at their current position.
Scanning my own project group of 12 advisees, I am amazed by the breadth and depth of their interests. I was even more impressed with their tenacity and composure as they met and interviewed busy professionals. The list speaks for itself: four entrepreneurs in four different industries, three engineers, two doctors, a professional golf instructor, a Hollywood director, and a businesswoman who, as a high school student, never imagined she would accomplish so much in her male-dominated industry.
Each student recorded and transcribed their interview, then wrote a one-page photo-interview featuring questions like “What advice would you have for someone interested in engineering?” or “If you could leave me with one piece of wisdom, what would it be?” From encouraging risks to never giving up, the collective lessons learned by our juniors would take hours to recount. But if there is one recurring theme that stood out—and not to sound cliché, honestly—it is that following your passions and working hard may well yield a happy and fulfilling life. I cannot think of a better lesson for our juniors as they move one step closer to adulthood.

John Nagler
11th-Grade Dean, History