Student Life

Global Studies Diploma Program

Davidson Day is A Leader in Pre-Collegiate International Research

Davidson Day developed a Global Studies Diploma Program that combines rigorous field-based research with our strong international course offerings. The Global Studies Diploma Program offers current and potential students the opportunity to develop a culturally diverse perspective, both through curricular and experiential learning.
The diploma program compartmentalizes several elements that currently exist at Davidson Day with the added enrichment of immersion and research through cohort learning. Students participating in the diploma program conduct research on a topic with international ramifications and demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the connection among those perspectives.

The Global Studies Diploma Program is both demanding and rewarding. Students who complete the requirements for the Global Studies Diploma will be awarded a special diploma from Davidson Day School, in addition to their standard Davidson Day School diploma.

Other benefits will include participation in special programming, such as a lecture and workshop series, epicurean tastings, and travel experiences.

Each Global Studies Diploma cohort will also have a team of advisors to help them along their path to completion to supplement the excellent support already provided by the school.

Global Education Team

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  • Mat Saunders

    Mat Saunders is the Director of the Global Studies Diploma Program and International Research at Davidson Day School. Saunders has devoted his career to advancing international research opportunities to students, focusing his efforts on finding ways to bridge the professional world of science with underserved populations such as pre-collegiate students. Saunders’ interest in the ancient Maya, led him to carry out archaeological research at terrestrial and cave sites in western Belize, where he has carried out excavations for the last twenty-two years. Over the last sixteen years, he has utilized pre-collegiate students to successfully advance archaeological research. His pioneering efforts to incorporate pre-collegiate students in his research in Belize, opened up more opportunities for Saunders and his students. He has served as co-director of excavations at the ancient Maya city of Cahal Pech in western Belize since 2006, at the Medieval castle site of Zorita de los Canes in central Spain since 2014, the Macedonian city of Mieza in northern Greece since 2017, and the ancient Roman city of Tróia in Portugal since 2018. In addition, Saunders organizes two annual conferences that focus on archaeology of the ancient Maya and also serves as the co-editor of The Mayanist; a peer-reviewed open-access journal dedicated to current archaeological research. Saunders has been at Davidson Day School since 2010. During his time at Davidson Day, he has overseen international research, taught in the upper school history department, and created experiential opportunities for lower and middle school students.  
  • Tia Hill

    Tia Hill is the Interim Head of Upper School at Davidson Day.  She joined the school after working in the admission office at her alma mater, Furman University, for 6 years. Tia spent one year as a member of the Board of Trustees for American Foreign Academic Research (AFAR). Since 2013, she has worked closely with dozens of students who have conducted academic field research. In the college admission process, she has supported these students by helping them showcase their work through their activity list, personal essays, interviews, and in some cases, the creation of a research portfolio. In 2015 and 2016, Tia spent two weeks working alongside her students at the Medieval castle site of Zorita de los Canes in central Spain where she helped uncover human skeletons and excavate artifacts from the fourteenth century.
  • Michael Smith

    Michael Smith is the Interim Head of School at Davidson Day. In over 40 years as an independent school educator, he lists the Global Studies Diploma and the AFAR program as two of the most unique programmatic endeavors he has ever been involved in. Michael has traveled and sponsored student programming with partner schools in Mexico, Canada, China, and India, and has participated in AFAR’s Tróia Ruinas Archaeological Research Project in Tróia, Portugal in 2019.

Areas of Focus

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  • Required Coursework

    In addition to Davidson Day School graduation requirements, Global Studies Diploma students will be required to complete specific coursework. The purpose of these core courses is to provide a common base of knowledge for all participants as well as a basic set of skills and tools with which they can analyze global issues from the perspective of cultures, states, non-state actors, and systems. The required courses include:

    • Anthropology Honors
    • AP World History
    • AP Environmental Science
    • A world language class each year with a minimum of four levels in the same language. Alternatively, the requirement can be met by completing the AP level of one world language.
  • Required Research

    The research component of the program requires a minimum of two weeks of international field research, either through Davidson Day School’s AFAR Program or another approved international research project. Members of the Global Studies Diploma committee will help students choose topics of interest and pair them with projects and research advisors to ensure a productive and enriching field experience. Research projects must be scientific in nature. Travel experiences without a scientific core, mission experiences, and study abroad will not fulfill this requirement. A minimum of two weeks must be completed to provide research for the student capstone project.
  • Capstone Project

    To demonstrate proper process and execution of scientific research, Global Studies Diploma students will work with an advisory team to process data collected during their specific research project and create a capstone report, which will then be disseminated in the form of a paper and public presentation. Although students may collect data over the course of their high school years, this culminating project will be completed during the student’s senior year. Current capstone research topics include comparative studies of Maya ball courts of Western Belize, medieval castle architecture of Central Spain, and an analysis of student impacts on carbon emissions.

Senior Capstone Projects 2021-22

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  • Oliver Hingst

    During the summers of 2017, 2018, and 2019, Oliver carried out six weeks of archaeological field research at the Medieval castle site of Zorita de los Canes in central Spain. During his time with the project, Oliver helped build a better understanding of the castle's history through extensive excavations and surveys. Specifically, Oliver helped discover a series of Medieval-era buildings including one equipped with a baking oven. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, his research was interrupted during 2020 and 2021 but he has continued to be fully engaged in the castle's story. In addition to field research, Oliver also presented his research "A Youthful Approach to Science: Precollegiate Archaeological Field Research" at the 2019 University of Calgary Chacmool Archaeology Conference.
    For his capstone project, Oliver has chosen to compile a research overview of the project, summarizing excavation data from each year since operations began in 2015. His work will document key project details such as project dates and team members but also highlight major discoveries that were pivotal in the understanding of the castle. His efforts will showcase the research of the last seven years of investigation at Zorita and will serve as a reference for future researchers at the site.
  • Sean Confoy

    During the summers of 2017, 2018, and 2019, Sean carried out six weeks of archaeological field research at the Medieval castle site of Zorita de los Canes in central Spain. During his time with the project, Sean helped discover many incredible elements of the once-great castle and led the research team to a better understanding of its history. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, his research was interrupted during 2020 and 2021 but he has continued to be fully engaged in the castle's story.  In addition to field research, Sean also presented his research "Nouret Arkeologian Parissa: Stories of the Ancients Told by the Youth of Today at The World that Wasn’t There" exhibition at the National Museum of Finland in January 2020.
    For his capstone project, Sean has chosen to build upon a few of the architectural discoveries that he was a part of, more specifically looking into the various phases of construction and architectural styles of the castle. He is drawing comparisons of architecture from the castle's Moorish occupations to the occupations by the Christian knights while showcasing defensive elements such as archer holes, defensive walls, and moats. 
  • River Hamme

    With thirteen weeks of archaeological field research under his belt, River has certainly fulfilled the research requirement for the Global Studies Diploma. River participated in the Ancient Tróia Archaeological Survey Project during the summer of 2019 but the other eleven weeks of work were done at the Medieval castle site of Zorita de los Canes in Central Spain. During his extensive work, River has excavated everything from subterranean rooms, dungeon floors, and even crusader burials. Over the years, the project came to depend on River due to his experience with and knowledge of every section of the castle. He has progressed from an inquisitive young man screening soil for the older members of the project to a unit supervisor.

    For his capstone project, he is pooling all of his experiences and data to outline the cultural diffusion of Visigothic, Jewish, Muslem, and Christian into the architecture of Zorita castle and sites of note in the Castilla-LaMancha region.
  • Sully Young

    During the summers of 2018 and 2019, Sully participated in two different archaeological research projects; the Zorita de los Canes Archaeological Testing Project in 2018 and the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project in 2019. During these four weeks of research, Sully investigated two very different cultures in the Medieval Spanish and the ancient Maya. Sully planned to participate in further exploration of these sites during 2020 and 2021 but due to travel restrictions, she was not able to.
    Ultimately, Sully chose to make the excavations of the Western Ballcourt of Cahal Pech the focus of her capstone project. Sully is sharing the results of the subsurface investigation of the site and comparing the results with other ballcourts at Cahal Pech and other sites in the Belize River Valley.
  • Briana Dopfel

    After several failed attempts, due to travel limits caused by the pandemic, Briana was unable to complete the field research component for her project. Because she had worked on all other components and had no control over her inability to complete the international research component, she moved to do her research through existing source materials and her experiences at home.
    She has specifically chosen to focus her research on global trends in corporation-generated CO2 emissions and how consumers indirectly promote these trends. She plans to not only outline the leading contributors to this pollution but will match up to her personal consumption footprint with the impacts of manufacturers so she gains perspective on the impacts of her actions but also allows peers to get a clearer picture of how they are indirectly impacting CO2 emissions.
Davidson Day School is an independent private school for students 2 years old through 12th grade in the Lake Norman region of Charlotte.