Honors Fair highlights Culver students' interests

Jan Garrison

From writing a book to fantasy football


May 28, 2021

For her Honors in Latin project, Xinran (Olivia) Ma decided to write a book.

Seriously, the Culver Academies junior from Shanghai wrote a book 65-page book – in Latin – which is now available on Amazon. Entitled “Hannah et Servilia,” the book is a study on how women and girls actually lived and their contributions to society in ancient Rome.

The novella details how a Roman girl, Servilia, travels through time and meets Hannah, a girl in the modern United States, with the help of the god Mercurius. Troubled by the lack of information available in modern times, Servilia teaches Hannah about the true social status of Roman women, something not extensively covered by the male writers and philosophers.

Ma said current academic works rarely mention the roles women played in Roman society. She had to do a lot of research to find information and wrote the book to further the discussion of prominent women, both historical and fictional. The book is geared toward intermediate high school Latin students.


Olivia Ma with her novella.


Her Honors in Latin project was one of the 105 projects presented by 89 students presenting during Culver Academies’ annual Honors Fair on May 21. Sixteen students previewed two projects.

During the two hours, Honors students offered their thoughts and findings on everything from developing new energy sources to improving human performance to developing better ways to invest your money and how to win at fantasy football.

Held outdoors for the first time to allow for social distancing, the fair allowed students, faculty and staff to walk among the different exhibits. Some exhibits were set up indoors if they needed electricity or a larger display area. One of those was Ruicong (Rachel) Jiang’s digital photography exhibit in the upper level of the Crisp Fine Arts Center.

Jiang’s display included photographs shot at home in Shenzchen, China and the United States. While the CGA senior was home, she used the family’s Nikon 610 camera for her street photography. But when she returned to Culver, she had to leave the Nikon behind. That meant borrowing an older Canon from the school and learning how to operate it, Jiang explained, “but I couldn’t bring the Nikon, it’s the family camera.”


Brett LeVan's "Anxiety Rhythms"


In Eppley Auditorium, Brett LeVan ’21 (Newton, Kansas) and Connor Lee ’21  (Granger, Indiana) showed videos of their Honors program in dance and music, respectively. LeVan choreographed two numbers for the spring Dancevision performance entitled “253 Days” and “Anxiety Rhythms.” Lee played the marimba, vibraphone, snare drum, timpani and piano solos for his Honors in Music project that he presented at the Honors Recital held earlier.

Elle Strogilos ’21 (Schereville, Indiana) presented her Honors in Leadership concept that will end up changing the look of the Senior Waltz at the Final Ball. Strogilos studied the role of tradition and ceremonies and how they communicate what “was, is, and can be.” Based in the study and community interview, she proposed a new CGA ceremony that parallels Officers’ Figure.

Outside the Dicke Hall of Mathematics, Perry Harig ’21 (Deerfield, Illinois) showed how he developed a successful equation for selecting the top quarterbacks each week in Fantasy Football. It was a project created out of necessity, he said, because he was finishing last in his group’s league.

Harig developed an equation to predict the top players. He tested four variables, two of which ended up in his final equation. With that equation, he noticed, that when given a confidence level of over 90%, the player scores more than 20 points. The top two players were not surprising: Russell Wilson for the Seattle Seahawks and Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. But, Harig added, he did finish first during the last three weeks of the season using his equation.


Perry Harig with his fantasy football formula.


Two Honors in Wellness students conducted studies to find the best ways to improve individual athletic performance. Seniors Catherine Vermeulen (Winnetka, Illinois) and Samantha Hazen (Papillion, Nebraska) took different approaches to explore the mind-body connection.

Vermeulen studied whether people would perform better after completing a mental or physical ritual before running a 220-yard sprint. Breaking her volunteers into two groups, she had one group watch an inspirational running video before their sprint. The second group performed dynamic stretching exercises before their respective timed runs.

In every case, those doing the dynamic stretching exercises performed better than those watching the video. While both groups did warm up before running to prevent injuries, she explained, the dynamic stretching clearly made a difference.

Hazen studied positive affirmation versus negative self-talk while doing three different athletic tasks. She had students swim, run and shoot free throws. Prior to performing their tasks they were given examples of positive affirmations or negative self-talk to repeat while doing each exercise.

Hazen found the volunteers’ performance in swimming and running were not really impacted either way. But the learned skill of shooting free throws was impacted by the negative self-talk. She concluded that something like shooting free throws, which has a specific skill set, is more prone to mental stress than the more natural movements of running and swimming.

Two Honors in Science projects worked with green algae as potential fuel source. Senior Paloma Alejandra Guerrero Perez (Tialpan, Mexico) looked at increasing the growth rate of green algae by increasing the iron level of the water during the growth phase.


Paloma Alejandra Guerrero Perez (right) discusses her findings.


Increasing the iron level did cause the cells to divide faster, Perez explained, but her experiment did not yield any significant data on whether that would result in producing more biofuel. She added a more controlled process would be needed to find if the increased cell division does result in an increased yield of oil.

Michael Kuhl '21 (Elmhurst, Illinois) studied the impact increasing the salt level has on green algae. What he found was that a little additional salt does go a long way. Adding 500 to 1,000 micrograms/liter of distilled water caused the algae cells to divide at double the rate during the cultivation period. But at 5,000 mg, the level dropped slightly below the normal rate of 19 cells per day. At 10,000 mg, the cell division rate dropped just over 10 cells per day.

On a larger scale, that increased cell division could substantially increase the amount of fuel produced by the algae. That, in turn, would help bring down the cost of producing the biofuel, he said.

The students running the Rubin Café as their Honors in Entrepreneurship program had the unusual experience of dealing with COVID protocols. They were forced to stay closed for the year except for a special one-day event to serve seniors and first classmen.


Reese Wilson and Carolina Jimenez were representing the Rubin Cafe team.


Reese Wilson ’21 (Chicago), who served as the marketing manager, said the students spent their time recreating the café menu, experimenting with new drinks, and preparing for next year. The students also entered three virtual entrepreneur competitions.

Owen Zhang ’21 (Tianjin, China) used his mathematical skills to select the best stocks for his imaginary portfolio. He found it important to watch for ripple effects in the market based on corresponding stocks rather than competing ones. One example was the impact energy sector had on the travel/transportation industry. When the price of oil rose, the airline stocks fell, even during COVID when few people were traveling.

Zhang ran calculations on the Standard and Poors 500 over a two-year period using the Determination Model and the Monte Carlo simulation. Did he invest his own money using any of his formulas?

“Oh no,” he laughed. “I didn’t.”

But, after crunching all the numbers, Zhang said he found Warren Buffett is right. The best thing to do in today’s market is to have a diversified portfolio.

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