Like most little boys, Ethan Spence was fascinated by dinosaurs. Living near the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, his curiosity was piqued.
“I went there almost every day,” he recalled. “I actually knew most of the people who worked there.”
When he moved to Carson City at 7 years old, his interest continued. Now that he’s 18, it has not waned.
“I’ve been interested in paleontology and dinosaurs my entire life,” he told a panel of judges Wednesday. “I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in it.”
Spence joined fellow Carson High School seniors in presenting their senior projects to volunteers Wednesday. The English assignment requires students to produce a research paper in an area of interest they choose, create a related and detailed project, compile a portfolio detailing the various aspects of the project, then present their work in a speech to a panel of judges.
English teacher Jackie Spotts said she begins preparing her students for the project as freshmen so they will begin planning sooner. That preparation paid off this year.
“I had a lot of students who chose different projects than I’d seen before,” she said. “I had one student who worked with aerial silks and one who went through reconstructive surgery and had to learn to walk again. I think they really worked outside the box this year.”
Spence presented his research project, tracing the evolution of dinosaurs through the different historic periods up until their extinction. For his project, he created two life-sized footprints of a Tyrannosaurus rex and of an iguanodon from foam pads, then applied a deck covering that simulates sandstone.
“If you feel it, it feels like an actual footprint,” he said.
He donated the footprints to the Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada in Carson City.
“I was able to help out the community so they know what lived here before us,” he said.
He helped himself as well, figuring out he wanted to pursue a career as a paleontologist.
“I now know what I want to do as a career,” he said. “I’m really excited to go to college so I can get started on all of this.”
Dan Neverett, vice president of finance and administrative services as Western Nevada College, said he was impressed with the projects he judged.
“I’ve done this for a number of years,” he said. “Consistently, I think this is one of the best I’ve seen.”
Since the project became a requirement for graduation in 2000, the presentations have always taken place in the mornings over two days. This year, all projects were presented on the same day.
“Having all the kids and the community members here in one day made it feel like more of an event,” said Jason Macy, chairman of the English department. “I’ve seen a lot of interaction afterward.”
He said the department is always looking at ways to improve the senior project experience, for the community and the students.
Alyssa Hayes, 17, said she was happy for the opportunity to teach piano lessons to children.
“I purely loved my project,” she said. “It was really fun.”
But she echoed almost all seniors in saying, “I’m glad it’s over. It’s a lot of stress lifted off your shoulders.”