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Mountain Climbing, Drone Building, and Fashion Designing Impress the Senior Project Panels at PAA


On top of Mount Rainier, Austin Smith is only two mountains away from becoming the youngest climber to peakbag the 20 largest volcanoes in the North West.

On top of Mount Rainier, Austin Smith is only two mountains away from becoming the youngest climber to peakbag the 20 largest volcanoes in the North West.


What do a fashion show, building a drone, and climbing mountains have in common? They are examples of exceptional first semester Senior Projects from Portland Adventist Academy seniors.

“Peakbagging” for his Senior Project, Austin Smith climbed 119 mountains with an elevation gain of 242,800 feet. He also climbed and added 15 unclimbed peaks to the peakbagger database. Even more impressive, at age 17, Smith became the youngest person to climb the 20 largest Cascade volcanoes.



Daniel's home-built drone can fly a distance 1.3 km above his controller.

Daniel’s home-built drone can fly a distance 1.3 km above his controller.


Daniel Stathem spent more than 100 hours building a drone so he could capture more compelling images for videography and photography. He created a time-lapse video of his work which included footage taken by the drone from hundreds of feet in the air.

Charli Jo Davis designed and created a clothing line. The five-piece fashion collection was designed, sewn, photographed, and modeled in a fashion show. The project took her more than 70 hours to complete.


Charlie Jo created a five-piece fashion line and presented it at a fashion show she organized.

Charlie Jo created a five-piece fashion line and presented it at a fashion show she organized.


The Senior Project is the most rigorous graduation requirement at PAA. It measures a student’s ability to succeed with the life-skills they developed during their high school career. It’s an opportunity for students to ‘show what they know,’ a term heard frequently in academic circles. 

The Senior Project course descriptions says, “students should demonstrate the various cognitive, manipulative and composition skills they’ve mastered.” This includes skills like organization, analysis, effective verbal and written communication, the use of technology, and more.


Daniel Stathem enjoys the benefits of his hard work. The drone he built will help him take incredible images to support what could be a business someday.

Daniel enjoys the benefits of his hard work. The drone he built will help him take incredible images to support what could be a business someday.


Weighted heavily in their final grade is the final presentation to a panel of PAA teachers and, often, community experts in their subject. “Good grades are not always a predictor of how successful a project will be,” said Davis. “You can be book-smart but not necessarily good at having the passion for what you do or the charisma to present your work to people successfully.” 

As difficult as it can feel, PAA seniors say the Senior Project is a valuable investment. “I learned a lot about working around other people’s schedules and time management,” says Stathem. “I definitely improved my people-skills.”

“Time was my biggest challenge,” says Davis. “Coordinating fittings with my models and working with deadlines and schedules; it’s all very complicated.”


Austin's family joined his climb and summit of Broken Top mountain and celebrated his new title: The youngest person to summit the 20 largest volcanic mountains in the Northwest.

Austin’s family joined his climb and summit of Broken Top mountain and celebrated his new title: The youngest person to summit the 20 largest volcanic mountains in the Northwest.


But seniors agree that the outcome is worth all of their hard work. “Going into this project,” said Smith, “I had no idea how much there is to know about peakbagging. My knowledge of the concepts, principles, ‘rules,’ history, and personalities has grown far more than I ever anticipated. It has opened the door for incredible opportunities. It even gave me the chance to do a two-day climb with one of the most important American peakbaggers.”

“I loved my Senior Project,” says Stathem. “I believe this is a project that will impact my future in great ways. Drones are part of an evolving industry. This could be the start of a business.” “It was a great way to showcase what I do and to share my personality and creativity,” says Davis.

“This is my life passion,” says Smith, “and I will continue on with my climbing adventures for the rest of my life.”

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