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Learning In Action: Senior research shines at Capstone Conference

At Warren Wilson, every academic department requires a senior capstone project. Students present their final Capstone projects at the end of the semester.

Below are a few of the senior’s final projects:


Jone Cunningham: Ensō: From Incarceration to Reconnection

For his senior capstone research project, recent graduate Jone Cunningham created a program for women and marginalized genders who have exited incarceration. “The experiences many have while incarcerated are deeply spiritually and emotionally unrooting, and I found an avenue to begin untangling those systematic injustices,” Jone said. Their program, Ensō, revolves around deepening spiritual connection to self, others, and nature, while engaging people with the Warren Wilson campus and all it has to offer. It takes the existing partnership between Western Correctional Center for Women and Warren Wilson through the Inside Out program a step farther, with an eight-week program that involves work in the greenhouse, dissecting religious and spiritual histories with Spiritual Life, and integrating the Houseplants for Happiness project. Jone spearheaded the Houseplants for Happiness together with Professor of Social Work Sarah Himmelheber to put students in the greenhouse, using Care Farming techniques, to propagate and grow plants and distributes those plants to folks in permanent supportive housing.

Jone majored in Environmental Studies with a specialization in Education. He has been the instructor for the trapeze classes on campus, involved with student organizing efforts regarding a Free Palestine, and the intern and TA for the Inside-Out Care Farming course. Their plans for after graduation are to keep building engagement with Western Correctional Center for Women as a part of their horticulture and garden club, as well as working with the Asheville Bail Fund.


Teaghan McAllister: Plastic in Bird Nests Increases with Proximity to Human-impacted Areas

For her senior capstone project, Teaghan McAllister researched plastic pollution within Carolina Chickadee bird nests on Warren Wilson’s campus. Using 98 chickadee nests collected over three years from bird boxes around campus, Teaghan looked at both micro and macro plastics. After many hours in the lab, she concluded that more than 90% of the nests contained plastic, and that plastic pollution was more likely to be in nests closer to human-impacted areas (roads, rivers and buildings). With the continuation of research like this, Teaghan hopes more people will become aware of the impacts plastics have on our ecosystems.
Teaghan presented her research at the 2024 ASB (Association of Southeastern Biologists) annual meeting. “It was amazing to see fellow researchers be amazed and awe-inspired by it,” she said, noting that no published research has yet to fully analyze and discuss this type of work within a song bird species. Teaghan will graduate this weekend with a major in Conservation Biology and plans to move to Vermont for a year-long research internship with the U.S. Forest Service before starting grad school. She looks forward to continuing to foster her love for research and environmental protection.