By Matt Delaney, Director of Academic Design and Integration

In the course, Evolution of Society, we often refer to Goldilocks Conditions: a set of conditions that evolve over time, and in certain moments and contexts, create emergent properties. Goldilocks Conditions contribute to the creation of stars, the evolution of new species, the first steps of a child, and the emergence of modern society. In the terminology of evolutionary biology, goldilocks conditions drive the steps of punctuated equilibrium, accelerating development and movement toward greater complexity. While many of us feel that elements of our own or our family members’ regular development were stunted or interrupted over the course of our COVID-19 experience, there were
some silver linings that emerged.

goldilocks-graphicAs the school moved to EPSRemote in March 2020, many would have predicted that the next year and a half would be characterized by stagnation; for students, teachers, and the school overall. The onset of COVID-19 and resulting quarantine regulations pushed us to remote learning. While EPS students may have been at a distance from the school and each other, for many the societal flip-flop did not dampen their want to understand how the world works and make it better; these conditions amplified their interest. Whether exploring the domains of epidemiology, economics, the history of race in the U.S., or rendering engines, many students took the opportunity to zoom out or abstract on the human experience when society hit pause. The conditions were such that they were able to examine both the trees and the forest.

Similar to their soon-to-come collegiate experiences, students had more time to explore the world around them. Over the four academic terms of EPSRemote, a record number of eleventh and twelfth graders took on opportunities in the EPS Independent Curriculum.

During EPSRemote, independent study meetings, seminar discussions, and senior thesis check-ins were places of more personal exchange and connection that we were missing while at distance. As always, the fact that students and faculty opt into this part of the program results in smaller, more relaxed exchanges focused on academic topics in which participants have similar interest.

A set of goldilocks conditions—including the combination of MSFT Teams as a meeting and sharing platform, and more open schedules—fueled increased interest in, and execution of, independent work. Some of my more robust experiences during EPSRemote happened in the context of seminars, independent studies, and senior theses. As students developed more agency and ability to self-direct their learning, what emerged is a warm, green glow of collaborative understanding.


Seminars ask students to: 1) explore academic discipline topics in depth, 2) make connections across the boundaries of those disciplines, and 3) apply learning to relevant, contemporary contexts. Seminars are 6-week experiences for groups of three to six students, and are facilitated by one or two faculty members. Below are each of the seminar topics that faculty and students took on since March 2020, including those that were offered in seminar registration for the 2021-2022 school year.

While students are not required to take a seminar before proposing an independent study, seminars are intentionally designed to be a model of what a well-structured, and genuine, independent inquiry looks like. Each is framed with a central or essential question, a weekly plan, and a culminating product aggregated over the course of the seminar. These experiences are collegiate in nature and driven by student engagement.

Facilitator(s) Seminar
Wassink A Theory of Everything
Edmonds Advanced Filmmaking: A Deep Dive*
Clarke Advanced Web Design*
Kelly-Hedrick Adventure in the Marvelous Outdoors*
Sudo Behind the Scenes: Technology Internships*
Chalana/Sanderson Bhagavad Gita: A Guide to Living*
Wassink Biomimicry
Mein Compilers: Translating Computer Language to Machine Code
Fierce/Balcomb Contemporary Art & Social Justice
Olsen, Violette Creamos: Creative Expression in Spanish*
Delaney/Schenk Miller Deliberate Design: College, Career, Life*
Uzwack Experiencing Nature Through Literature*
Olsen Gender Studies*
Fierce, Ho Global Trends 2040*
Bandel/Stegeman Indigenous Issues in Contemporary Latin America*
Mein Introduction to Electron Microscopy
Briggs Introduction to Functional Programming*
Frystak Introduction to Queer Theatre*
Yezbick Language Change*
Ferguson Literary Translation: Global Art*
Delaney/Stegeman Methods, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship*
Facilitator(s) Seminar
Lori Nutrition and Fitness: How to Feel Better
Yezbick Patterns in the Mind: Language and Human Nature
Lao Periodic Dining Table: Topics in Food Science*
Larner-Lewis Poetry: Personal and Political*
Reina Privacy in the Age of Social Media*
McKinney Race in the United States*
Briggs Relational Databases
Chalana Resilience and Mindfulness*
Lorne/Sanchez Resilience and Well-Being Through a DBT Lens*
Yezbick Siege Warfare
Loosmore Systems Thinking: An Introduction to Ecological Modeling*
Fierce/Stegeman The Ethics of Indigenous Rights*
Kaminsky The Millennium Problems: Million Dollar Math Puzzles*
Delaney The Signal and the Noise
Gummere Understanding Baseball Through Statistics*
Briggs Understanding Computers from the Transistor Up*
Scott Understanding Gravitational Wave Sources and Detection*
Hagen Well-Being: The Five Essential Elements*
Delaney/Briggs/Macaluso Worldviews, Truths, and Consequences*
Winkelmann/McKinney You Mad, Bro?: Rethinking Masculinity*


These courses are a hallmark of EPS’s most engaged and self-motivated students. One of the most exciting and challenging options offered at EPS, independent studies provide juniors (starting in the spring term) and seniors the opportunity to extend their academic exploration into topics that are not currently covered in regular EPS course offerings. These academic efforts give students practice working one-to-one with faculty members, similar to collaboration that will be expected by many of their professors and graduate instructors in the college setting.

Interested students identify a topic or subject area that they would like to examine; find a faculty mentor to work with; and construct a ten-week curriculum, and meet weekly with their mentor. A text of appropriate complexity is required for all independent studies with both initial proposals and final presentations heard by the faculty mentors and the school’s senior program leadership.

Spring 2019-2020
Sustainable Architecture in the Modern World Psychology Applied to Teaching and the Classroom Structure Explorations in Commercial
Design Through Printmaking
Control Theory An In-Depth Look at the United States Election Not So Social Media: The Alarming Decline of Teenage Mental Health in the Age of the iPhone
Quest for Power: Is China’s Education System Preparing Them for Global Dominance? Light Options in Computer Graphics The EPS Podcast: Journalism at EPS in 2020
Fall 2020-2021
Common Core: Successes & Failures Pandemic Responses Local Politics: Ins and Outs
Vaccines Around the World Neuroscience: Synapses, Syntax, & Sinatra Accelerated Computing with GPUs
Climate Change and the U.S. Economy America’s Pedagogic Creed Using Serious Games in Teaching
The Art of Book Publication Architecture:
The Modern Home
Forecasting Epidemics Abstract Linear Algebra
Winter 2020-2021
The Science of Traditional Medicine Learning Theories & Hierarchies Nanophotocatalysis: Environmental Applications
Advanced Filmmaking: The Independent Film Comparative Electoral Systems & Solutions Art for Games: 2D, 3D Design
Intersection of Capitalism & Feminism ICE and Human Rights Comprehensive Equity in Schools
Corporate Social & Environmental Responsibility Challenging Genre:
Non-Traditional Essay Forms
Render Engines: Energy Redistribution Path Tracing
Neurology & Policy: Child Homelessness The Psychology of Persuasion in the Modern Age
Spring 2020-2021
Peruvian Shining Path: Documentary Film Global Narratives: Bias & Rhetoric in Journalism Machine Learning: GAN & Reinforcement Learning
Existentialism & The Categorical Imperative Software Development: Programming & Algorithms Audio Signal Processing: Music Applications
Economic Markets & Regulation The Art of the Personal Essay Immunotherapy, Oncology & Brain Cancer
Climate Policy & Corporate Accountability Neurodiversity in Schools 19th Century American West
Study in Portraiture Gender Biases in the U.S. Justice System
Radical Resistance: 1960s Protest Literature The Supreme Court: Flaws & Impacts
Fall 2021-2022
Data Science in Astrophysics: Detecting Pulsars The American Police Force The History of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth
Game Design Criminal Psychology: What Makes a Killer Comparative Religion: Alexandria
A.I. in the Sports World Domestic Policy & the Cold War Collaborative and Cooperative Learning
The History of Typography and Modern Application of Historical Typefaces Action for Climate and Environmental Justice Folk Music:
Music in Hard Times
Explorations in Game Theory The History of Family Planning in the U.S. Advanced Visual Arts and Portfolio Development
Race in the Context of Biology Sufi Poetry & The Sociolinguistics of Punjabi


The Senior Thesis is the most rigorous research opportunity in the EPS academic program, providing students the time and support to build on the work of previous independent studies to produce a substantive research product. The thesis is designed to be both a culmination of work in an individual academic discipline (or an interdisciplinary domain), and preparation for the intensive research required as an undergraduate.

EPS students who meet the requirements below have the opportunity to engage and complete a senior thesis. In November of their senior year, interested seniors propose a winter independent study with intent to complete a senior thesis in the spring. To date, five EPS students have successfully completed a senior thesis.

Research Options
As part of the Senior Thesis, students may:

Expand the scope of research from a previous independent study

Engage in new, original research

Combine elements of Options 1 & 2

Duration, Credit, and Scheduling

  • Students are required to have completed two independent studies of exceptional quality as a prerequisite for proposing a Senior Thesis.
  • Senior Thesis mentors are invited, and thesis topics/approaches proposed, at the close of senior fall.
  • The Senior Thesis is a two-term experience beginning with a research-oriented independent study in the winter trimester that is proposed with intention of constructing a thesis in the spring.


  • Independent Study with Intention to Complete a Senior Thesis
  • Research Methods and In-depth Research


  • Senior Thesis Production
  • Presentation to the EPS Community

Senior Thesis Examples

Student Independent Study 1 Independent Study 2 Independent Study 3 Senior Thesis Title
Maja Johnson (’18) Immunotherapy:
Cancer Treatment(Winter 2016-2017)
Virology and Bacteria

(Fall 2017-2018)

Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine

(Winter 2017-2018)

Optogenetics & Saccadic

Adaptations in Primates

(Spring 2017-2018)

Thomas Schaefer (’18) Behavioral Economics

(Spring 2016-2017)

Cognitive Science: Hofstadter

(Fall 2017-2018)

Case Study:

The American

Opioid Crisis

(Winter 2017-2018)

Randomness & Financial Statistics

(Spring 2017-2018)

Jackson Fellows (’20) Modeling Neutron Shielding

(Spring 2018-2019)

Algorithms in Genome Sequencing

(Fall 2019-2020)

N/A Machine Learning: Cytomegalovirus Prediction

(Spring 2019-2020)

Eliana Swai (’21) Psychology Applied to Teaching and the Classroom Structure (Spring 2019-2020) America’s Pedagogic Creed

(Fall 2020-2021)

Comprehensive Equity in Schools

(Winter/Spring 2020-2021)

Kenneth Yang (’21) Light Options in Computer Graphics (Spring 2019-2020) Accelerated Computing with GPUs

(Fall 2020-2021)

Render Engines:

Energy Redistribution Path Tracing

(Winter/Spring 2020-2021)

As we return to face-to-face learning in the fall, we are excited to leverage some of the goldilocks conditions we benefitted from in the independent curriculum during EPSRemote, giving students more time and space to take on their own independent inquiries. The warm, green glow that results from genuine inquiry, and answering relevant and meaningful questions continues to be core to the EPS experience whether at distance or face-to-face.