But shiny new labs, while nice to have, aren’t the most crucial ingredient. Balancing this in-depth research with the broad education Deerfield prizes, points out Warsaw, also requires the gift of time. “Students benefit directly from a faculty modeling lifelong learning,” he says; of vital importance is “creating time for faculty to develop their academic passions and interests, and support faculty growth across careers.”
Time is what can allow teachers like Cullinane, and his colleagues across all departments, to extend themselves just a little more—to explore things a bit more deeply. “Deerfield is such a vigorous environment. Almost every moment is allotted,” Cullinane explains, and the call for more time is a rally cry for students and teachers alike. That being said, the majority of faculty members are so deeply passionate about their subject matter that they manage to eke out time here and there in the pursuit of new knowledge—often bringing students along for the adventure—and that’s outside of the classroom.
BIO 400 fosters collaboration with outside professors, such as Ian Grosse, who teaches engineering at UMass.
BIO 400, in particular, places a high premium on time, in part because the work students undertake is always fresh; it also fosters collaboration—with outside professors such as Ian Grosse, and within Deerfield’s own faculty. Cullinane is not interested in questions that already have answers. After all—if you know the answer, what’s the point of asking? “No mere lab exercises,” he insists. “We don’t do projects that have already been done.”
Accordingly, each September brings an entirely new line of research to the table. This year, the students settled on three separate projects: a computer modeling of bruising; a domestic violence study in collaboration with local criminologists; and a cardiology study of the effects of exercise on resting cardiac output.
Charlotte McLaughry ’11, one of this year’s BIO 400 students, is most passionate about the domestic violence study. “It’s focusing on the real world, on a problem that is occurring right now and needs to be solved,” she says. “We’re gathering police reports of domestic violence cases, and we’ll make data tables assigning a value to the severity of violence in each case, which should help police analyze each case and figure out how best to proceed.”
McLaughry’s interest in BIO 400 was piqued when she received emails from students last year, looking for test subjects for ambitious projects. The opportunity of a class like this at the high school level wasn’t lost on her. “It’s independent and creative. We’re structuring our own time, and we know that we’ll get out of it whatever we put into it.” This implicit trust and mutual respect is a hallmark of Cullinane’s interaction with students. “Dr. C is really in tune with the kids in his class, and we can always communicate with him. He’s always available, even when he’s not on duty.”
McLaughry’s classmate Kendall Carpenter ’11 agrees. Carpenter is focusing on the cardiology study this year, looking at the effect of basketball training on cardic output. She, like McLaughry, had Dr. C last year for AP Bio, and admits it was no cakewalk. “It was hard! It was my hardest class of junior year. But somehow it didn’t feel burdensome to study eight hours for a test. I mean, it took a toll on my sleep,” she laughs. “But my interest level was always high. This may sound silly, but I think the atmosphere in his classroom is conducive to learning because it’s so comfortable.”
Cullinane does trust and respect his students, but there’s something else, too: He has an almost prescient sense of what lies ahead for them. Along with the rest of the faculty, he’s helping guide them toward it. “Deerfield kids tend to be passionate about the work they do,” Cullinane says. “They take ownership of their projects. Their futures as doctors or researchers is palpable to them—and I see it, too.”
Perhaps that’s why Mia stresses that she wasn’t learning just biomechanics in BIO 400. In addition to incorporating skills learned in other classes, such as math and English, she marvels, “I was allowed to do something completely new. I learned how to collaborate with a professor, research a specific topic extensively, contact other specialists nationwide. It’s hard to believe I received the kind of research training I did in high school. But most importantly, I was learning how to be self-reliant. I learned to think for myself.”••