The Project Week Process

Elaine Sarazen Have you ever wondered how project weeks are assigned? Or how you and another student could submit identical lists, but you get your fifth choice and they get their first? Many students believe there is a lack of transparency in terms of how project weeks are assigned, which has lead to frustration and disappointment. For example, some speculate whether the process is actually fair or whether teachers simply choose who they like best. Others believe there is a way to game and manipulate the system. Thus, I asked a number of students how they think the project week process works – and their responses varied. On one hand, one student, who chose to remain anonymous, explained, “Some people will get their first choice and some people will get their sixth. It’s just sort of random” and “is based somewhat off of gender balance and race.” On the other hand, sophomore Jordan Rice said, “I believe that faculty members allot a certain amount of spots for people in each grade, so you are competing with kids in your grade for a spot on a project week.” These are some of the questions and ideas I had in mind when I sat down and talked with project week coordinator Mr. Mahoney about how project weeks are really assigned to students. The process starts by looking at each student’s first choice. Initially, students whose first choice is a project that is not as popular or unsubscribed will be placed into that project. Then, the projects that are oversubscribed are put into a pile and each project is selected randomly and addressed. If the first project selected is Tokyo, all students who listed Tokyo as their first choice become part of a lottery. However, if Tokyo only accepts sixteen students but thirty students list it as their first choice, the sixteen students who will end up on the project must be randomly selected. The remaining fourteen students’ second choice then becomes their first. Next, another oversubscribed project is randomly chosen from the pile – let’s say it’s Mindful Chicago and twenty kids listed it as their first choice. If two of the fourteen kids who did not get Tokyo for their first choice had Mindful Chicago as their second, the twenty kids in the lottery for Mindful Chicago becomes twenty-two. This same process continues until all projects are filled with students; Mr. Mahoney explained that approximately eighty percent of students are placed into projects during the first, automatic round of placement. He also emphasized that he completes the aforementioned process name blind and can only see student IDs, which eliminates the accusations of bias. After the first round is complete, Mr. Mahoney works manually to place students without a project and move other students around into a higher choice. If necessary, he takes into account gender and grade balance; in some cases, such as the Mosaics all-female group, gender balance is not possible, whereas gender balance takes more precedence for out of town projects due to housing arrangements. For this year’s projects, 46% of students got their first choice, and 99% of students got a project within their first five choices; only 10% got their fifth choice. Mr. Mahoney further explained that, “Some years are better than others. [Placement] is not something that is easy to control because it depends on the selection.” Nevertheless, the process is ever-changing.  Mr. Mahoney, along with Latin’s data analyst Mike Kegler, are constantly looking to improve the Project Week placement system. For example, Mr. Mahoney is currently working on how to take into account a student’s previous selections in determining their future placements. It looks like we can stop all the conspiracy theories regarding Project Week selection and hope we get lucky!]]>