Carly Aquino (right) works with Theresa Grafenstine, inspector general of the U.S. House of Representatives, in a job shadowing project of Villa Maria Academy.

It’s a familiar student lament about schoolwork: “When will I ever need to know this?” Villa Maria Academy’s innovative Senior Capstone program, beginning its second year, connects education to real-world experience through research, mentoring and job shadowing.

Seniors in Villa Maria’s culminating learning activity research an “essential question” and test their findings in the field. Each girl chooses an area of personal interest and, under the guidance of a mentor, investigates her topic during the course of her senior year. In the spring each student shadows at a job, runs a program for a nonprofit, or conducts an experiment.

Program mentors, who include alumnae, faculty, parents and community leaders, help the girls make the connections between their research and careers, as they learn how professionals apply their knowledge and experience on a daily basis.

Last year, students investigated a wide array of fields and experiences. They job shadowed or volunteered in surgery, law and law enforcement, theater, nursing, education, community service, physical therapy, finance, marketing and engineering, to name a few.

Carly M. Aquino shadowed Theresa Grafenstine, the inspector general of the U.S. House of Representatives, and a former foreign policy advisor to Senator Ted Kennedy and the Clinton Administration. Madison Burke explored broadcasting with NBC 10’s Renee Chenault-Fattah. Colleen R. Kozacheck benefited from the mentorship of Newbery Medal author Jerry Spinelli. Marissa Calderin went to construction sites to research green building. And Gabrielle Salinas observed operations with surgeon Donelle Rhoads, M.D.

In addition to connecting students to potential careers, Villa Maria’s Senior Capstone program builds communication skills, time management and, perhaps most importantly, confidence, as the girls challenge themselves to go outside of their comfort zones and interact with professionals in their chosen fields. The critical thinking, problem solving, and real world experience help mold Villa Maria graduates into young women with a vision for the future.

Marissa Calderin researched “green” engineering techniques as part of her senior project at Villa Maria Academy.

Villa Maria Academy High School in Malvern is a private Catholic high school, preparing girls for college and beyond in the tradition of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. At Villa Maria, students are taught to be critical thinkers and confident leaders. The young ladies pursue a course of study that will continually reinforce analytical problem-solving skills, high-level thinking, and increasingly independent work.

Villa Maria empowers young women to lead lives of spiritual growth, intellectual inquiry and Christian service. For more information, visit www.vmahs.org.