Sari Finn
Saint John’s College High School
Washington, DC
12th Grade
Second Place Winner

Think back to when you were in your senior year of high school. You had just completed all of your

college applications in addition to being ready to complete all required high school credits needed to

graduate. As January and the second semester approached, your excitement, anticipation, and anxieties

for the future intensified. Had you ever thought about how fully prepared you were for your next

endeavors? Had your high school given you the ‘flextime’ to have internship opportunities, expand on a

senior capstone project or even volunteer abroad? This last semester of your high school career could

have been the best yet, spent acquiring so much more knowledge through real world experiences

instead of in a classroom twiddling your thumbs.

I know of many students, especially those who have graduated from my high school, who wish they had

had the opportunity to expand on a senior capstone project or even apply to an internship before

attending college. However, do not get me wrong, my high school offers a renowned college prep

curriculum that sets its students up for greater successes in their respective futures. As I look back and

reflect on what has been offered to me and all that I have accomplished there, I cannot help but be

grateful for the wide selection of courses, creative and performing arts, athletics, service opportunities,

and academic support that have been resources at my fingertips. As many schools around the DC Metro

(DMV) area do not have the ability to offer their students such an array of resources, having a variety to

choose from has only heightened my high school experience and intuitively has helped me identify where

my interests lie.

My school recently launched the Entrepreneurial Center for Innovation and Leadership (ECIL). According

to the website, ECIL’s mission is to “focus on social responsibility and our role in creating a positive

impact in our communities and in the world” ("Entrepreneurial Center”). This encourages students like

myself, who are interested in stepping outside the realm of the traditional classroom, take creative and

critical thinking and turn it into bold action that positively impacts our diverse communities.

ECIL has allowed me to select a challenge and figure out a way to solve that challenge using the United

Nation’s (UN) Sustainable Development Goals. I am currently interested in attempting to tackle the lack

of clean water and sanitation, and irresponsible consumption and production. Water scarcity is real, as,

for every ten persons, three do not have access to safe and potable drinking water. Especially in first

world countries, the amount of water that is wasted on a daily basis is extremely concerning, considering

more than 40% of the global population is impacted by water scarcity (“Goal 6”). Throughout this

capstone, I am able to build upon this Sustainable Development Goal that will eventually result into a

prototype that is pitched to a panel of judges, similar to the business-related reality TV series Shark Tank.

However, the project ends there and we graduate high school. Yes, the experience of creating a

beneficial product that could potentially be on the market one day is a riveting experience, but there is

always room for growth, suggestion, and improvement. I wish there was more time to fully expand my

project and see the reality of my prototype.

As an aspiring Civil and Environmental engineer who wants to concentrate on creating and maintaining

sustainable water systems in developing countries, expanding my ECIL Capstone Project outside the

walls of my school would have been one thing that wholeheartedly would have made my high school

experience more relevant to my future. If given the opportunity to expand, I would create an advanced

model of the prototype that I have designed: a water refiltration system. The prototype that I have

designed efficiently collects wasted water and safely filters it so that it becomes potable again. This

product could be sold to companies that work in places where water is seen to be wasted the most:

cafeterias and dining halls, restaurants, resorts, and even in one’s home.

As many companies are turning towards using more sustainable and environmentally friendly resources,

this wasted water filtration system would hopefully be an economically and environmentally attractive

product. Additionally, an incentive to draw companies in to buying this product is that all wasted water

that is filtered would be repackaged and sent to those in need; therefore every gallon of wasted water

that is filtered quenches one person’s minimum daily hydration needs. If I had flextime during my last

semester of high school, I could have fleshed out the design created for my prototype, giving me the

opportunity to connect with various companies in the region.

Taking myself away from the classroom for a semester and into the streets of the greater Washington

area would undoubtedly bring a new dimension to my project. I would spend some time shadowing in the

Office of Environmental Management at the Department of Energy. Making a visit to Capitol Hill would

better acquaint me with government policies, laws, and acts in place that could later alter or prohibit the

production of my refiltration system. After being more informed about the policy making side, paying a

visit to some centers who are completely devoted to sustainability would give me a better idea of

potential companies that will buy and promote my product.

The Merrill Environmental Center in Annapolis is a perfect example of a building that is 100%

environmentally friendly, housing the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Headquarters. Because that entity is

devoted to energy efficient design, potentially interning there could bring great insight towards my

knowledge of environmental conservation and preservation. Although these are just a few of the

businesses that I could expose myself to, invariably, each would bring a unique angle to my Capstone.

Adding additional flex time to my schedule could make these incredible experiences happen, setting me

up for greater success in my project and beyond.

My school has taken a step in the right direction towards developing global leaders in today’s world.

However if flex time was implemented into the senior schedule, Capstone students could really deepen

their understanding of their projects through the experiential learning model. Furthermore, their projects

could become real world products in the marketplace. In the grand scheme of things, all students could

benefit greatly from flex time because of the open-ended structure. There are many other schools who

have innovated models that give students experiential off campus opportunities. So why not make it

apart of everyone’s high school experience if it has all of these personal, professional, and societal


Work Cited

“Average Daily Water Usage.” The World Counts,

“Entrepreneurial Center.” St. John's College High School | President's Welcome,

“Goal 6: Water and Sanitation - United Nations Sustainable Development.” United Nations, United Nations,