Graphic by Alejandra Pinto/The Gazelle

Seniors Discuss Benefits, Difficulties of Capstone Projects

Capstone. The very word is enough to strike fear in the heart of even the toughest student juggling graduate and job applications with a project that ...

Oct 5, 2013

Graphic by Alejandra Pinto/The Gazelle
Capstone. The very word is enough to strike fear in the heart of even the toughest student juggling graduate and job applications with a project that continues to evade all attempts at definition.
According to the NYU Abu Dhabi website, “The Capstone project is a demanding, year-long endeavour aiming at a significant piece of research or creative work … Unlike other courses in which faculty establish the structure and set assignments, the Capstone project puts the student in charge.”
The Capstone Projects
Senior students at NYUAD have very different ideas of what the Capstone projects are supposed to encapsulate, many putting their own spin on a topic that personally interested them or teaming up with a faculty member to develop already existing research.
“Initially, the advice that I got … was pick an area of [literature] that you’re interested in, and then pick a topic that you’re interested in,” Carmen Germaine said. “Initially, [I wanted to take an] eco-critical look at British modernist literature and that was way too big.”
For this reason she has chosen to focus on Canadian literature, more specifically its presentation of hunting, meat-eating and carnivorism.
Social Research and Public Policy senior Mark Hoffman spoke of the importance of finding the right mentor, the odds of which are greatly increased by planning ahead.
“It’s really hard to find the right person …[but] if you start to plan out what field you want to go into, there’s enough [faculty] at our school … that you could find someone that’s related to that field, but it requires some level of foresight, and a lot of luck,” Hoffman said.
“I would recommend to juniors to start thinking of your Capstone at the beginning of junior year, or at least the field you want to go into,” he added.
For Brett Bolton, a Political Science major currently studying abroad in New York, the process has been somewhat frustrating because of the absence of a mentor. The guidance of an advisor is a component of the Capstone process that other students unanimously voted as necessary to their success.
“The program in New York completely omits the Capstone mentor component of the process, which makes for a very generalized and almost watered down preparation program ... though I appreciate [it] being offered as a substitute accommodation,” Bolton said.
For film students, the Capstone process is complicated by strict deadlines which demand that students gather enough resources to have completed pre-production, filming and post-production by May.
“It’s a juggle between things that you have to do to graduate, which includes getting your Capstone finished … it’s juggling that stuff and then stuff that is really going to help your future,” said film major Chani Gatto.“I’m finding little to no time to actually study for my GMATs, or even do the essays for my [graduate school] applications. We have other things that we need to get done — career applications, grad school applications, our future.”
Gatto echoed Hoffman’s sentiment that an earlier start to the Capstone process would have been helpful.
“[If I could change something] I would move the Capstone seminar to be a mandatory class in junior year — it should not be during film pre-production,” Gatto said.
The Capstone Seminar
These Capstone seminars have been a point of contention for many. According to the NYUAD website, seniors must participate in a “Capstone seminar that serves as a forum to discuss the research process and present work in progress. These seminars offer a model of intellectual community and collaborative learning in which participants offer their thoughts across fields of study and engage in active critique and revision.”
For Gatto, the Capstone seminars have been an unexpected and frustrating addition to her already busy semester.
“We were given this really intense syllabus with five essays and a ton more work that doesn’t directly influence the production of a film,” Gatto said.
“My concern with the seminars is that my film has become an extracurricular project and not a Capstone project,” she added. “There is no class time that is being sacrificed for me to actually work on my film — I have to go above and beyond.”
Hoffman believes that the seminars are still in their formative stages, and he is therefore unable to evaluate their effectiveness.
“It’s almost too early in for me to make any sort of judgment on whether the class is useful or not,” he said. However, he believes the seminar has potential.
“If it goes in the direction I think it’s going … I think [it will] be really useful,” he said.
Computer Science major Anthony Spalvieri-Kruse does not attend any formal seminar.
“It’s a ghost seminar — I get credit for it, but it’s independent research,” he said.
For science students, at least, he believes that there is a lot of confusion with expectations and mentor help.
“You need to piggyback off a mentor’s research, but the mentors don’t really know this, so there’s no cohesion,” he said.
In contrast to Gatto and Hoffman, Spalvieri-Kruse said that starting early was not particularly helpful to him or his peers who are also science majors. He said that because the school has been adamant about getting students to start early, the deadline pushed students to use poorly planned ideas in order to satisfy the administration.
“Almost everyone I know has switched their capstone … so while I think the push to make people get on top of that was a good move, I don’t know that it necessarily resulted in better Capstones,” Spalvieri-Kruse said.
To Germaine, the structure of the seminar seems questionable.
“In some ways it’s not helpful at all — even if we’re all reading the same text and analyzing it, there’s such different discourses [within the class],” Germaine said. “I’m sort of divided as to whether it’s good to have us all together, or if it would be better, we could be a little bit more focused on each of our disciplines.”
The Meaning of the Capstone
Students debated the functionality of the Capstone projects in life after college, and many agreed that Capstones were not beneficial to every student, depending on their plans following graduation.
“I don’t necessarily know if it’s right to have everybody do a Capstone, because everyone has such different academic goals,” Germaine said.
Spalvieri-Kruse shared the same opinion.
“If you want to go to graduate school, I think the Capstone is extremely helpful, but [the administration] have proposed that we spend our junior summer working on Capstones, and that is a terrible idea,” he said. “Not all of us want to go to graduate school, a lot of us want to get jobs, and that’s the summer that you get an internship that should lead into a job, or at least gives you the experience to apply … I would really prefer to spend more time applying for jobs than worrying about a thesis that’s going to count for nothing. It doesn’t even show up on our transcript.”
Hoffman expressed a different sentiment.
“I think it’s important that we have something like the Capstone as opposed to just graduating,” he said. “There’s a tendency to see education for its use value – Capstone shouldn’t necessarily be about use value. It should be about delving into something that you’re academically interested in and trying to challenge yourself in understanding whatever that is.”
“The Capstone is useful in bringing together all the things you learn in your four years,” he said.
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