Vail Mountain School seniors launch senior projects |

Vail Mountain School seniors launch senior projects

Special to the DailyMike Wright

VAIL – See that high school kid filming on Vail Mountain? He’s not playing hooky; he’s making a documentary about the balance between skiing and family, friends and work.

A handful of Vail Mountain School seniors every year take on projects about science, research, the arts, creative writing, or business. They spend an inordinate amount of time with those projects, so the subjects are things they’re passionate about. They consult with experts in the field and faculty, but they’re on their own for the actual work.

“Senior Project at VMS is an incredibly valuable college preparatory experience,” said Marisa Ferrara, VMS Senior Project coordinator and college counselor. “It is a perfect segue to academic life at college and an introduction to ‘real’ life as a young adult. Students engage independently in research, analysis, creativity, discovery, problem-solving, and writing.”

Students choose their own projects, but they must pass muster with a board of advisers – teachers, outside experts and other students. Students document everything as they go, then make a public presentation.

Last year, one student wrote, directed, and performed in a musical, managing a cast of dozens. Craig Tietbohl made a film about geocaching. Now he’s in film school. One learned to make gourmet soup and created a business plan for a restaurant. Yet another researched and analyzed the history of the war on drugs in Mexico.

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“Senior Project is a cherished tradition at Vail Mountain School, providing an opportunity for students to delve into an area of personal interest and apply the academic habits and skills they have built in upper school to intense, focused independent study,” said Upper School Director Adam Dube.

This year, the 20 VMS seniors’ projects range from orthopedic surgery, to classical music, to animal rights. The goals are just as lofty – write a book, produce a documentary film, put on a fashion show, train horses, research treatment options for an autoimmune disease, and conduct a study of individuals eating a strictly plant-based diet to investigate the effect on body composition.

Tucker Cocchiarella’s the senior who appears to be playing hooky on the Vail Mountain with video equipment, but isn’t.

Cocchiarella’s film will focus on the culture of living and skiing in the mountains.

Cocchiarella has a couple questions:

• “How and why do people work so hard to balance their skiing orientated mountain lifestyles?”

• “With the sacrifices, is it worth it?”

Cocchiarella will be producer, director, cinematographer and editor.

Sierra Brill is studying fashion marketing, beginning with a local clothing company to learn the business side of the fashion industry. She’ll be part of marketing projects already underway.

She’ll create her own marketing initiative for the company.

“The centerpiece will be a fashion show to promote a new line of clothing from the company,” she said.

Sage Ebel wants to design a greenhouse to produce food year-’round in the Rocky Mountain climate. That means researching greenhouse technologies, small green building technologies, agronomy, architecture, and cost analysis.

When Ebel is done, she’ll have a 25-page research paper, a user to explain greenhouse technologies, and a planting schedule.

“As the threat to the health of the earth increases as the 21st century progresses, an understanding of sustainable technology is essential,” Ebel said.

Michael Wright is researching vitiligo, an autoimmune disease, and the effectiveness of four treatment options: UVB, corticosteroids, vitamin D compounds, and calcineurin inhibitors. The plan is to research how the four treatment options help repopulate melanocytes in the epidermis, as well as inhibit the further destruction of melanocytes.

“Using research on immunostains, I hope to show how effective each treatment option can be for vitiligo,” Wright’s proposal reads.

He knows about this because he’s living it.

“My project will result in a 25-page research paper demonstrating my understanding of the disease and providing a recommendation for an optimal treatment option, as well as a personal response, having undergone 3 of the 4 treatments myself,” Wright said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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