By Carrie Crockett
Chloe Cazayoux and Autumn Routt’s senior project, which they worked on with Justin Bressler, Dorothy Corrigan, Bennet Dupuy, Camden Dyer, Stavo Kinney, Gabriel Martinez, Finn Phayer, Adam Poché, and Annabel Powers, was recently made into a Chevron commercial. The following is an interview with Chloe and Autumn about the process of going from thinking about senior project to starring in a major nationally distributed commercial.
Crockett: Can you describe the project you did? Was it a Project Lead the Way class assignment? How did it grow from there to a Chevron commercial?
Cazayoux: For our senior project, EDD (engineering design and development) students have to design and prototype a solution to a problem they are passionate about. I'm not sure if it's a PLTW assignment--we haven't used PLTW course material this year--but it is part of the PLTW engineering track at Lusher. Autumn Routt and I got the idea to make a marsh grass transplanter from last year’s Chevron design challenge, which we participated in along with Brynn Beatty. It's a regional competition where teams are given a few hours to speed design a solution to a given problem. In 2018, it was coastal erosion. Although our original design was great, we wanted to develop it further, so it became our senior project. Many other seniors in EDD hopped in on the project, and it's come further than I ever imagined. Early on, we petitioned Chevron for sponsorship, not expecting a reply. In response, they gave us more than enough money, access to Delgado's makerspace, and mentorship. All they asked from us is that we star in their commercial.
Crockett: What is the science behind using cord grass to replenish the wetlands?
Routt: Marsh grasses like smooth cordgrass and bull rush are very resilient plants. They can withstand changing salinities and, if planted correctly, absorb powerful waves. The wetlands provide a natural barrier against storm surge that is especially important in New Orleans. They are also home to an enormous ecosystem of plants and animals. The marsh grasses we plant are the same grasses that naturally occur in the wetlands, so we do not disrupt their environment by adding the grass, but actually restore it to something closer to what it started as.
Crockett: What was it like making a commercial? Where did you film? How long did it take?
Cazayoux: We were filmed twice, once by a small team at the Delgado fablab makerspace, and then by a larger, extremely professional team in the marsh. That film site was VERY legit. Before filming, Chevron had hired a team to scout for the most beautiful swamp in Louisiana, and they did a very good job. We had trailers, makeup/wardrobe teams, a driver, and all you can eat buffets for lunch. Since the last time they'd filmed us, both Autumn and I got bangs, so they used Hollywood magic to get rid of them. Many of the people working on this commercial were also working on films and Netflix originals with celebrities. It was an all-day thing, around 8 am to 4 pm.
Routt: The commercial was very cool to film. Chloé and I had really nice hair and makeup people that followed us around during the shoot. We were given lines to say, and we were asked to repeat them many times with different intonations. My favorite part was when they took us out on an airboat to get a shot of the planter in action.
Crockett: Are there plans to develop your idea on a larger scale?
Cazayoux: Yes! Both Autumn and I are studying Engineering in college, and although we'll be leaving Louisiana, we'll continue to care about the Louisiana coast. We learned a lot at our most recent test session, which was only a couple weeks ago. The next step after making a working product is to find a way to distribute it.
Routt: We are hoping that some students who take EDD next year will continue our project. We have also discussed perhaps working on the project over the summer. We have been working all year with Common Ground Relief Wetlands, a local volunteer organization, and they said they would be interested in using our final design in their plantings in the future.