This Fall, two Lilley Fellows presented their work to the Upper School. Established in 2018 through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. William Lilley III '55, the Lilley Fellowship Fund awards research fellowships to students who exemplify academic curiosity, intellectual rigor, and scholarly passion. The Lilley Fellows pursue an independent study to create a capstone product while working in a professional setting to develop their expertise and interests.
Working with her faculty advisor, Alex Jimenez, Mary Cipperman '21 focused her fellowship work on the very timely topic of voter registration fraud and restrictions in the United States and Pennsylvania. She studied current policies and their effects on minority turnout. She also established an activism organization and conference to register youth voters. Mary spoke to her classmates about her work in September; you can watch Mary's presentation here.
After hearing Stacey Abrams, a voting rights activist, speak in New York, Mary became interested in voting rights issues. "It seemed wrong to me that legislative or bureaucratic factors might limit a person's ability to cast a ballot," she said.
Mary began by researching the Voting Rights Act and Shelby County v. Holder, a landmark 2013 Supreme Court decision which overturned section 4 of the Act. Mary shared case studies showing significantly depressed voter turnout among minority voters in areas that were able to restrict early voting as a result of the 2013 decision.
With this in mind, Mary founded the National Organization for Youth Activists (NOYA), a nonpartisan grassroots activism organization dedicated to inspiring and empowering civic engagement for young people. "Without endorsing candidates or parties, I wanted to provide resources, training, and voter registration access to teenagers," she shared.
Mary developed a website with an easy voter registration tool and a blog with resources and links for activism, student-written editorials, and features of activism initiatives. She also planned and executed a three-day virtual conference for more than 70 participants that featured workshops and lectures by political candidates and representatives from national voter's rights organizations. The Youth Activism Project, Youth Programs at the Civics Center, the Thirst Project, Students Demand Action, and Generation Vote were all represented.
After the success of her research, conference, phone-banking, and registering voters, Mary's organization has been adopted by the Pamela and Ajay Raju Foundation, which will provide funding, advertising, support, and connections going forward.
The Lilley Fellowship program allowed Vince Vento '21 to delve deeper into his interest in wrongful convictions in America. Working with Kalil Oldham as his faculty mentor, Vince investigated real-life examples of innocent Americans who have been exonerated after serving time in prison.
This October, Vince presented his research during Upper School Chapel. Vince shared that studies have demonstrated that approximately 4% of capital death row crimes could be wrongful convictions and that exonerees have lost 24,150 years in the system since 1989. After spending several months researching this important issue, Vince focused on conducting interviews with three exonerees who have spent a collective 90 years in prison.
Vince was connected with these men through the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and was able to conduct bi-weekly interviews and view their trial transcripts. "Because of their willingness to share their stories with me, I've developed a strong relationship with each exoneree that I am incredibly grateful to have been able to do," Vince told his classmates. Vince spoke to each of them about their backgrounds, their lives while incarcerated, and the futures they are working toward. Vince shared a detailed story of one exoneree, Shaurn Thomas, who was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to life without parole for murder, robbery, illegal use of weapons, and conspiracy in 1994.
On the day in question, Shaurn was actually miles away at the Youth Study Center, but it still took 23 years to prove his innocence and find the real killers. "The Philadelphia Homicide Unit and, to an extent, the District Attorney, withheld evidence that would have cleared Shaurn at trial," shared Vince, "This is referred to as a Brady violation, named for the Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland."
Each of the three men Vince spoke to impressed him with their resilience. "Shaurn Thomas, David Bryant, and Johnny Berry, rather than being angry, which they of course have the right to be, instead work to help young people and exonerees in similar situations to them," Vince said.
Vince was grateful for the opportunity to speak with the exonerees so that their stories could be told in parallel to point out unique nuances while simultaneously painting one broad picture on the life of an exoneree in his final fellowship research paper. Once completed, his capstone project will be entered into the EA archives.
Two other Lilley Fellows also conducted fellowship projects over the past year. Erica Feehery '21 worked on an application to help teach math to children with autism spectrum disorder. Her mobile application, designed for use in Individual Education Plans, aims to leverage applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy to help students learn mathematics skills. Matt Memmo, Hon. served as Erica's faculty mentor.
Kat Harrar '21 continued her work that she began as a Fellow in 2019. Working in the Sid Buck Community Garden, she developed an EA Farm-to-Feed Manual and collaborated with EA's dining services team to provide fresh produce from EA's campus for use in student lunch offerings. You can read more about her work here. John Dilworth served as Kat's mentor.