Photo by Jourdan Enriquez/The Gazelle

Demystifying the Capstone

Photo by Jourdan Enriquez/The Gazelle Amid sleepless nights, tears and minor bouts of yelling, NYUAD juniors across the Global Network University have ...

Apr 13, 2013

Photo by Jourdan Enriquez/The Gazelle
Amid sleepless nights, tears and minor bouts of yelling, NYUAD juniors across the Global Network University have been rapidly throwing together proposals for their Capstone projects. With the first official deadlines for project descriptions set throughout April, the reality of these mandatory senior year projects has reverberated throughout NYUAD’s inaugural class.
The Capstone project is a final cumulative project that all NYUAD students must complete in order to graduate. Although the content of a Capstone project varies according to discipline, the academic layout for all majors consists of one year long seminar in which students will meet with advisors once every two weeks to develop their independent research projects. This will take the space of two full classes, allowing seniors the time to focus wholly on their independent research.
As the culmination of NYUAD’s academic program, the Capstone has been a lingering uncertainty for many students from the very beginning.
“I think we were all super aware of it freshman year, but the administrators and faculty kept on telling us not to worry about it until it sort of sprung up on all of us,” junior Jorge Zarate said.
The finer details pertaining to the format and timeline for these projects have only recently been determined, which is frustrating for many juniors.
“I would have appreciated it if there had been a greater emphasis on thinking about Capstones earlier,” Zarate said. “We could all achieve more ambitious Capstones if it were part of the advising/counseling for study abroad, for example.” Much of the confusion revolving around Capstones is rooted in ambiguous language. The NYUAD website contains three ambiguous paragraphs in describing the Capstone project as “a historical narrative, musical composition, performance, invention, documented experiment, scholarly thesis or other form appropriate to the student's goals.”
Such general language has led some students to have misleading or unrealistic ideas as to what Capstones. According to Hannah Brückner, Associate Dean of Social Sciences, some students initially misunderstood Capstones to be general projects unrelated to their academic activities. “Some people had the idea that a Capstone project could be anything… if possible interdisciplinary and changing the world,” she said.
As the policies pertaining to Capstones have materialized over the past three years, however, students and faculty alike have begun to face the reality of completing more traditional undergraduate academic projects. In the social sciences, for example, students are by and large expected to produce large research papers within their discipline.
“It is the culmination of the work that you do in your major and therefore it is most meaningfully managed by the division of the departments rather than by someone else,” she said. “Some of students I talked to were really sad to see that vision disappear.”
Junior Manuel Nivia has found the lack of precedent for capstones challenging. A music major, the goal of the Capstone remains unclear to him. “There are no guidelines telling me how long the composition should be, how should it be presented,” said Nivia. Instead, Nivia has submitted a proposal for creating a network of university musicians in Abu Dhabi, which he hopes will remain in Abu Dhabi after he graduates.
Deans in all departments have firmly decided against allowing students with more than one major to complete multiple projects. Double majors have two options: the first is a combined Capstone, which would combine elements of both majors into a single project. The student would need advisors in both majors to give combined approval and support throughout the process. The alternative is to complete the project in just one of the disciplines and complete extra electives in the second major.
Junior Claudia Carrasco has opted for the latter option, given the challenges of combining her theater and physics majors. She hopes to collaborate with two other students on a theater Capstone and complete her physics major with additional electives.
The notable study abroad culture at NYUAD has posed a challenge for the development and communication of Capstone proposals. Given that many students that study abroad for part or all of their third year, there is a sizeable challenge in maintaining communication links with advisors in Abu Dhabi.
While studying abroad at the University of Warwick, junior Janos Kun has found it frustrating to attain accurate information regarding his future engineering Capstone. Although he has had talked on Skype with the faculty to clarify the process, he said it was not enough.
“It's really difficult to connect with people in New York or the engineering faculty and frankly this process has been borderline ridiculous,” he said.
Completing the Capstone project is further complicated for students planning on studying abroad in their senior year. Junior Juan Felipe Beltran is currently abroad in New York and plans on a second semester there next fall. Although he remains unsure of the implications of his unique situation in terms of completing his Capstone, he remains optimistic. “[The Capstone process] has been very confusing and exciting, though I'm not stressing too much about it,” he said. “I'm not exactly worried that the expectations will be unreasonable.”
Despite the complications presented by NYUAD’s study abroad culture, faculty have worked to maintain connections with students through Skype meetings and email. Additionally, deans and Capstone advisors have met with juniors studying in New York in person to provide guidance and answer questions about the capstone.
The first batch of Capstones has presented its share of growing pains for many juniors; however it has already been a rewarding experience. NYUAD junior Chani Gatto sees the confusion and challenges of developing the Capstone project rewarding.
“These Capstone projects are the perfect example of how we are directly influencing and forming an incredible institution from the ground up,” Gatto said. Thinking of future classes’ projects, Gatto added, “I'm hoping we will iron out most of the issues with the Capstones so the following years will have a little more structure to the process.”
“What I’ve found to be the case is that students have, at least some students have a lot of anxiety about it, however many of them have good ideas about what they would like to do,” said Brückner. “I am very optimistic that these will be a fun and meaningful part of senior year.”
Alistair Blacklock is co-editor-in-chief. Email him at
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