Gunn Scholars Present Their Findings

6 mins read

By Rain Ji ’19

On April 28, The Gunnery hosted its annual Gunn Scholar Conference in the Tisch Schoolhouse. This year’s Gunn Scholars did a phenomenal job of conveying their projects’ discoveries and significance to their audiences. The title “Frederick W. Gunn Scholar,” often referred to as “Gunn Scholar,” entails year-long research on a topic that is pertinent to our school’s history and culture. The Gunn Scholar program was created by Mrs. Krimsky in 2003 and has been constantly evolving and expanding since then. This year’s Gunn Scholars were Michael Kassis ‘19, Joey Lin ‘19, Paige Moffat ‘19, Tony Zhang ‘19 and Rain Ji ‘19.

Each project is completely student-driven, and supervisors Ms. Giroux and Mr. McMann simply provide additional aid if needed. Ms. Giroux said, “It’s definitely a year of change for the program,” since she and Mr. McMann took on more responsibility than in previous years, and they also made the program more of a “multimedia class, which involves videos and presenting the research in different ways.” Ms. Giroux wanted to change the structure of the class to have Gunn Scholars share their progress throughout the year and eventually have everything culminate at the conference. “It was really exciting to see certain students find things that are really exciting for them because they became very engaged with the topic, and brought back enthusiasm to the class,” said Ms. Giroux.

Michael is a four-year senior at The Gunnery who decided to become a Gunn Scholar because he likes to do research on historical topics and wants to bring subjects to light that are not frequently talked about. Michael had a hard time settling on his topic – initially, he wanted to study the school’s relationship with the Vietnam War and later tried to learn more about Vietnam veterans’ lives. However, these topics reached a deadlock because there was not enough information.

Michael with Mr. McMann and Ms. Giroux. Photo courtesy of Mr. Surjan.

Michael ultimately conducted his research on Gunnery alumni who served in conflicts from Korea to Vietnam and how they were affected by the founder of The Gunnery, Frederick Gunn. Michael interviewed many Gunnery alumni who served in the military, including Peter Bowen Richardson, John Herrick, Richard Lilleston, Ronald Brown, Robert Brush and David Van Esselton. He provided a detailed account of their life experiences before, during and after their Gunnery days and their accounts of the battlefields.

Michael discussed how their life stories reflect the ideals of Frederick Gunn and the four cornerstones of The Gunnery: respect, responsibility, integrity and scholarship. He utilized old report cards, correspondences and admission records to fortify his research. In the end, he concluded that “these four cornerstones are very embedded in these alumni evident from how they demonstrated them in their fields and service to the country.”

Both Joey and Tony examined buildings and campus architecture. Tony’s project focused on the development of the Gunnery campus and the way it relates to the philosophies and visions of its founders. He also used pronounced architects and their philosophies to analyze the architecture on the Gunnery campus. Throughout his research process, he had to “dig through information that might be only loosely related” in order to find the true necessary material. He found it hard “to organize the information and put it into a research paper because it is a yearlong project that requires constant effort and focus.”

Tony’s presentation was very personal. He began by introducing his thoughts on “what makes artists and what artists make,” and then talked about his time at Carnegie Mellon University’s summer architecture program and his internship at Forster + Partners. Such experiences laid the foundation for his deep interest in architectural philosophy.

Tony giving his Gunn Scholar presentation. Photo courtesy of Mr. Surjan.

Tony introduced Mr. Gunn as an environmentalist and explained how his philosophy of preserving nature as much as possible was lived out by his students. Tony also introduced Headmaster Hamilton Gibson’s influence on the school’s architectural landscape development – he wanted to preserve the “tranquility of the Gunnery” campus. He was looking to create a “close-knit community,” which is physically represented by our quad.

In the end, Tony touched on the future of the school’s architectural development by pointing to interviews with Mr. Becker and his master plan for the school and Mr. Geoff, the architect of the new Arts & Community Center building. Tony wanted to be a Gunn Scholar because he “was interested in exploring the field of architecture and its correlations to philosophy” and “wanted to learn more about how the philosophy of our founders had influenced the development of the Gunnery campus and how it still impacts our lives today.”

Joey’s presentation was about the evolution of the history of Gunnery buildings, including how the plans were created, developed and eventually carried out. She decided on her topic because the architecture of The Gunnery was a major reason why she chose the school. She said there was too much information to look over and organize, so picking and settling on the major theme for the final paper was difficult. Joey became a Gunn Scholar because she wanted to have the experience of being able to have access to all the historical primary resources.

Joey began her presentation by introducing the audience to the philosophy of Mr. Gibson, who said “A school is made up of human beings who give meaning to buildings and grounds.” From there, she introduced different types of buildings on campus, including Tudor, Colonial Revival and Brutalist. She gave specific descriptions of every significant building on campus, like Brinsmade, Van Sinderen, Memorial, the Science Building, Bourne and the soon-to-be-completed Arts and Community Center. She concluded her presentation by pointing out how natural beauty had a significant impact on the Gunnery architecture style, and she said she hopes future Gunnery buildings can align themselves with Gibson’s philosophy.  

Joey giving her Gunn Scholar presentation. Photo courtesy of Mr. Surjan.

Rain, as one of the editors of The Highlander, chose to study the development of our student newspaper and its importance to our community. Rain wanted to become a Gunn Scholar because she has always been fascinated with primary-source driven studies, and enjoys hanging out in museums and libraries. She chose to pursue this specific topic because she was curious about how the newspaper came to be what it is today, and she believes the role of newspapers is increasingly important in today’s information-packed divided society.

In her presentation, Rain pointed out important thresholds of the student press, including when it first started in 1935, when it was affected by World War II and the Civil Rights movement. Rain interviewed many alumni from The Gunnery and Wykeham Rise from the 1960s in order to learn more about what the campus was like during the 1960s turmoil. During her research, she read about an incident revolving around burning newspaper from correspondences between Mr. Ogden Miller and other faculties. She also interviewed past Editors-in-Chief to piece together what the newspaper was like in recent years, from 2000 to 2017. As part of the revamp effort last year, she also included an evaluation of the effort and provided data to back her conclusion that the revamp was successful.

Rain giving her Gunn Scholar presentation. Photo courtesy of Mr. Surjan.

Paige studied Abigail Gunn’s leadership and legacy during the mid-nineteenth century. She enjoys learning the history and has done many smaller research projects in the past. Paige said she felt that completing a publication of yearlong research would be the culmination of her history career, and that she felt very excited for the challenge. Throughout her project, Paige cited time management as being the most difficult part since it was an independent research project without typical homework or even class time. Despite this, Paige had a successful presentation. She started her presentation by providing vital information about Mrs. Gunn’s childhood, then introduced the ideas of the Cult of Domesticity and Republican Motherhood to her audience.

Paige giving her Gunn Scholar presentation. Photo courtesy of Mr. Surjan.

From there, Paige explained how Mrs. Gunn aided Mr. Gunn in the establishment of The Gunnery and dissected the feminization of teaching at the Gunnery. She touched on Mrs. Gunn’s role as a female humanitarian and the challenges the Gunns faced as active abolitionists and temperance supporters. Paige used the Gunns’ experiences with black students at Towanda Academy, where Mr. Gunn taught on exile and their exchanges with the disgruntled reverend Gordon Hayes. In the end, she concluded her presentation by restating Mrs. Gunn’s legacy and again laid out the general evolution of women’s rights.

All the Gunn Scholars devoted a tremendous amount of effort and energy into their research and shed light on often overlooked important historical records of The Gunnery. We as a school take pride in our history, and Mr. McMann and Ms. Giroux will continue to encourage more students to join the Gunn Scholar program as a way to carefully examine the past and provide guidance for the future.

“Ultimately we’d really like to have more students from other schools to present and grow our academic Rooted Research Conference so we can share Gunn Scholar findings with a larger community,” said Ms. Giroux. She believes that the program will naturally progress and evolve depending on who the student participants are and what topics they pursue. She wants all Gunn Scholars to take away how to conduct historical research using primary sources, as it’s an unfamiliar method for most high school students. Moreover, she hopes students can learn interesting stories relevant to our school and its history.

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