Q&A: First five top-10 sophomore projects draw from Arabic, Chinese, Indo-European languages

Sonja Hansen
Sophomores Joe Mo, Jack Christian, Allison Zhang, Josh Friedman and Luca Procida (not pictured) will present their top-10 sophomore projects on Monday, April 17.

On Monday, April 17, the first five top-10 sophomore projects will be presented by sophomores Jack Christian, Josh Friedman, Allison Zhang, Luca Procida and Joe Mo. Check back tomorrow for Q&As with the five sophomores who will present on Tuesday, April 18. 


Jack Christian will focus on the rise of women rabbis in Judaism. He discusses the discrimination women face in the rabbinate, from sex discrimination and day-to-day prejudices to sexual harassment. Christian’s presentation also includes a brief history about the rise of women rabbis in the 1970’s, along with the rise of the feminist movement. 

Q: Why did you choose to focus on women rabbis?

A: I wanted my topic to include Judaism because there is a lot of information about that religion. I searched the news, and the article that interested me the most was on women rabbis.

My mom also has a lot of good friends who are Jewish, so they could put me in touch with women rabbis, such as Rabbi Mona Alfi at the Congregation B’nai Israel.

Q: What was your favorite part of the project? Your least favorite?

A: My favorite part of the project so far is the presentation itself. I love to speak in public, especially about a topic that I am knowledgeable and intrigued about.

My least favorite part of the project is the research. It’s very time-consuming, and you don’t even use all the information you gathered.

Q: What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned?

A: The discrimination that women rabbis face in the rabbinate. Rabbi Mona described many situations (of discrimination) to me that have occurred to her while in the rabbinate, (and they) simply blew me away. I had no idea that women still face such harsh discrimination today.

Q: What was your greatest challenge?

A: Trying to find time to complete it. I am often very busy with sports, extracurriculars, Octagon and other classes. The project was very time-consuming, so it was difficult for me to find time to pull it all together.

Q: What do you want your audience to learn?

A: That women face fierce discrimination in the rabbinate because of the fixed mindset of the followers of Judaism that a rabbi must be a man. I also want them to know that their mindsets need to be changed. My goal throughout my presentation is to educate the public on the discrimination (against) women in the rabbinate so that one day it can be stopped.

Q: Did you expect to be in the top-10 presentations?

A: Everyone’s presentations were really good this year, so I really had no idea whether or not I was going to make it into the top 10.

By Héloïse Schep



Josh Friedman’s project is about the relationship between English and German, along with their relationship to the Indo-European language tree.

Q: Why did you choose your topic?

A: I’m more interested in languages than religion, and I find it interesting to see the development of languages over time. You can see how English and German both originated from the same language and the differences they developed over time.

Q: What was your favorite part of the project?

A: Designing the slides because I really like technology – especially things like Keynote.

Q: Least favorite?

A: Doing the project itself. While I’m fine with presenting, I don’t like the project that much.

Q: What was the most interesting thing you learned?

A: There was a lot. While I did know that there are German words that are untranslatable to English in one simple word, I didn’t know that there are English words that are untranslatable to German in a single word.

Q: What do you want your audience to learn?

A: I think that everyone should have a basic understanding of where our language comes from, and I hope to get across the point that it’s similar to something you’ve definitely heard before.

By David Situ



Allison Zhang will present on “The Ethical Dilemma of Treating Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Q: Why did you choose this topic?

A: I’ve always been interested in medicine, but because we had the criteria of language or religion, I was trying to think of a way to tie this into some sort of medical aspect. So then I came up with the idea of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the medical problems of them refusing blood transfusions. But then I was doing more research (on this topic), and the whole medical side of it was actually really boring. It got more into the ethical and the legal aspects of it.

There’s this one section (in the Bible) where it says, “Thou shall not eat blood,” and they consider eating blood to be (the same as getting) transfusions.

Q: What was your favorite part of the project?

A: My favorite was putting together the slideshow and figuring out how I would organize it. I have this one boy’s story woven throughout the entire presentation, so everything ties back to him. I liked having it that way (because) it keeps the audience interested – I hope – and ties together the entire presentation.

Q: What was your least favorite part of the project?

A: My least favorite (part) was definitely trying to find court cases (because) all the cases I found were either not of children, not in the U.S. or way too (dated). I finally was able to find a few good cases, but when I was rehearsing, my first run-through was (about) 18 minutes, so I ended up cutting a few of the cases that took me so long to find.

Q: What was the most interesting part?

A: For sure reading about the court cases. I didn’t expect to be so fascinated, especially since I was originally planning to take a medical angle on this, but seeing all the different rulings and arguments from the cases was really interesting.

Q: What was the most challenging part?

A: (The) most challenging (part) was also my least favorite part – finding cases. I spent one entire evening going through every law database I could find. There were a few sketchy websites that listed cases, but I wasn’t sure how reliable those were. So I ended up going to the specific court’s archives and looking for (information on there), which took forever.

Q: What do you want your audience to learn?

A: I want my audience to learn more about the difficulties of treating JWs (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and other patients who refuse life-saving treatment. There’s never an easy decision, especially related to minors and teens, who may seem mature enough to make their own decisions but are legally still minors. I want to bring up the question of whether or not religion is more important than life and really make people think.

Q: Did you expect to make it to the finals?

A: Before we started presenting, I felt pretty confident. But after the first day, I honestly didn’t think I would make it because there were so many good (presentations). As I replayed my presentation in my head, I started thinking of more mistakes and more things I could have done better. I (kind of) freaked myself out.

By Emma Boersma



Luca Procida’s project is on the strengths and struggles of the Arabic language.

Q: Why did you choose your topic?

A: I chose to do it because Arabic is  a very diverse topic that’s really unique, and I also didn’t think a lot of people would come up with it. It’s also a controversial topic as well, due to the current news and media coverage of Arabic speakers and the Arabic cultures.

Q: What was your favorite part of the project?

A: I think my favorite part was the cultural event. I attended a performance of the Palestinian Debka, a cultural dance that was performed by some high-school students from Palestine.

Q: Least favorite?

A: Perfecting the presentation and the way I said certain things, along with the Keynote itself. It was just a lot of tedious work doing little bits of adjustments.

Q: What was the most interesting thing you learned?

A: Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world.

Q: What do you want your audience to learn?

A: I want my audience to learn how rich of a (language) Arabic is and how Arabic as a language can benefit people today.

By David Situ



Joe Mo will present on how obstacles between Chinese and American cultures have caused a change in the style and taste of Chinese food in America.

Q: Why did you choose this topic?

A: It seemed (like) the most interesting and relevant to me and stood out from the majority of projects, which were on religion.

Q: What was your favorite part of the project?

A: My favorite part was assembling and designing the presentation itself.

Q: What was your least favorite part?

A: My least favorite was deciding on the topic since this year’s projects were to encompass themes of either language and culture or religion. I had my hopes up that this year’s (project) would be similar to last year’s, when students were able to choose any topic they wanted.

Q: What was the most interesting part?

A: Why Chinese food has become what is in America today has been a question that my parents as well as I have wondered. Being first-generation immigrants, their experience with traditional dishes in China barely correlates with the American Chinese counterparts. Many people here, including myself, have had little or no experience eating at truly authentic restaurants. The project was an opportunity to explore traditional culture and find the root causes of the change that occurred.

It turned out that language barriers were a huge factor in this, and fit in very well with the “language and culture” theme. It was also a chance to encourage students to try authentic options, even if they may be different from the American-Chinese ones that most are used to.

Q: What was the most challenging part?

A: The most challenging part was figuring out a way to present the topic that was both relevant and engaging to the audience as much as it was for me.

I needed to find a way to make the topic familiar enough to understand, yet also be unfamiliar enough to keep it interesting.

American Chinese food is something almost everyone here is familiar with, so I used it as a point of comparison to the traditional dishes from which it originated.

Q: What do you want your audience to learn?

A: I hope (to) inform the audience on how language and cultural barriers can completely change an element of a particular culture from what it was traditionally. I want to encourage everyone to experience the traditional aspects of cultures as well.

I named a couple common examples in my presentation (orange chicken, fortune cookies, etc), but the true focus of the project wasn’t on the specific differences. Anyone who’s been to Panda Express or any other American Chinese restaurants already have an idea of what they serve. Presenting that would just be repeating the obvious. It wasn’t as simple as “Dish A changed to dish B.” The entire point was to highlight the language and cultural barriers that caused the differences, not listing names of dishes.

By Anna Frankel

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