Finding Pathways for the Honors Capstone
During your first two years, you participate in the Honors experience largely through the enriched academic environment of honors coursework and through other shared resources and opportunities. Once you complete your first two years, you seek out the independent experiences that push you beyond the familiar challenges of the classroom. To this end, you may work alone under the guidance of a professor or share a practicum experience of working as part of a research team.
The hallmark of these years, the Honors Capstone, is a structured, extended experience in your major field, culminating in an honors thesis OR an honors practicum. It is a means to develop your own scholarly or professional interests at an honors level. Because this advanced work sets you apart from other university students, the Honors Capstone will benefit you as you apply for graduate/professional school or enter your chosen career. The thesis or practicum is not just a line on your résumé; it should be a talking point in a job interview or your interview for medical school. The Capstone work that leads up to it may be the avenue by which you pinpoint your dream graduate school, and get them to take notice of your application.
The honors thesis or practicum that caps your honors experience will take you further into the methodologies and questions of your major than most students are able to do through the classroom alone. Whatever its shape, the Capstone is the pinnacle of your academic experience. Your thesis or practicum testifies to that academic realm but should not limit the design for your work. Figure out what problem or question or activity in your field is the one you want to lose/find yourself in; the thesis or practicum will give you ample opportunity to explore the discourse of the field and learn what insights over time contextualize the question and drive it forward. The thesis or practicum is your chance to add your voice to that discourse, on whatever terms are appropriate to the Capstone you are pursuing.
You have to be ready for this advanced work, which is why the Capstone must be in your major field (or your minor, if you have adequate training in it and seek the Dean’s permission). Beyond that, the range is pretty much still to be determined. Consider the following examples:
- Undertake traditional research in a library or archive and write a near-graduate level paper that contributes to the academic discourse on the subject.
- Seek an internship or unpaid volunteer experience that gives a real-world basis for testing theoretical solutions, resulting in a handbook or critique of use to experts in the field. Write a policy to address an unmet or insufficiently managed public concern, and explain why other efforts have fallen short but this one will work.
- Prepare for student teaching by devising a semester’s worth of lesson plans, and show your academic mentors that you have mastered current theories of education and classroom management.
- Write that collection of short stories you hope will make you famous, and include a reflection on your models, your strengths and those weaknesses you cringe to expose.
- Do whatever capstone is required or encouraged by your major or minor, e.g., various engineering programs, the Center for Manufacturing Excellence, or the accountancy alternate route. Write up the twists and turns in your decisions, why you made them, and what you would do differently if you could.
- Figure out what experience in your field you are eager to undergo, and do it; write a thesis that captures the risks and potential of the work so that your mentors and peers understand why it matters.
Incorporating the Capstone into Honors Coursework and Requirements
Your Capstone will contribute to the honors hours you earn as you reach or exceed our minimum 30 honors hours (29 for those entering before the 2017-2018 academic year). How many of those honors hours are earned through the Capstone, when the coursework occurs, and how the work appears on your transcript varies not just by discipline but by individual timelines and goals.
Some elements are common in all Capstone experiences:
- There is an accepted curricular structure to accommodate academic growth outside the classroom. Most majors and minors have appropriate coursework and, if they do not, the SMBHC has HON courses to grant you credit.
- Your Capstone work (including the thesis) can receive a maximum of 9 honors hours.
- You are expected to be enrolled in a thesis-writing class during the semester in which you defend the thesis. A departmental course or an HON course will accommodate this work.
- When you are using a course as a home for Capstone work, you and your advisor should discuss grading criteria and how frequently you will meet. Be sure you are clear about the work required of you each time and by the end of the semester. If you are earning credit, you are earning a grade even if this does not look like a classroom to you.
- You will have to tell us your Capstone Plan for conducting and completing the coursework; otherwise, we cannot tell how to award the honors credit or how to support you during your Capstone.
For more on the curricular structure, go to the list of commonly-used courses for the Capstone. Usually, but not always, a course taken for your Capstone work will also count toward your major. Check the Academic Catalog or talk with your department chair if you have concerns about using the Honors Capstone to satisfy requirements in your major. Ask especially about fulfilling the major’s electives at the 300- or 400-level. Often, that is where the Honors Capstone can contribute to your major as well as your honors hours. The academic coursework that houses your Capstone will receive honors credit whatever the departmental designation. You should not use HON courses if departmental courses are available. The form for your Capstone Plan, submitted before you begin your Capstone project, will give us the information we need in order to award honors credit for a departmental course, or to enroll you in the HON coursework for the thesis.
While there is an “end” for your Capstone in writing your honors thesis or collaboratively writing up your practicum findings, there is no set starting point. Your capstone form tells us your strategy for the last two years.
There is a reason we posit the Honors Capstone as a culminating experience. You are just now moving beyond the rich but somewhat safe environment of the classroom. The key now is to recognize that you must take charge of your own development, not wait for honors classes (or any external challenge) to determine your direction or achievement. What you can do is this:
- Seek diverse and meaningful involvement with the world,
- Remain open to the questions you feel compelled to ask based on what you witness, and
- Develop a discipline derived from caring so deeply about the answers that you no longer count the hours spent waiting and working toward them.
In other words, in these Capstone years, we expect you to move your challenges beyond the classroom and to keep your eyes open to the complexity and depth you encounter in the world beyond those walls. Here is how the SMBHC helps:
- Through our Honors Fellowships, we will support study abroad experiences or unpaid internships. Go to some place you expect will change and challenge you, and be prepared to be a different person when you return. Beyond the classroom, away from campus, out in the world – get out there and look around. We will help pay for it.
- Take an honors experiential learning course. It will not give you answers, but it will put you in wonderful company while you learn to ask the questions. And it will take you mentally (sometimes physically) into unstable territory.
- Risk the discomfort of deep conversations – We give you professors and staff who will listen and query and share their own discomforting insights. The connection to professors from your honors coursework is not the common experience for undergraduates. Make the most of it. Take an Honors Conversations course with a faculty member or community leader who will ask you to think about what you previously never considered, and challenge your perceptions and opinions.
- We call it Community Action Challenge for a reason. CAC challenges you to move beyond your own comfort and urges you to respond to a challenge in the community. During your Capstone years, why not give it a shape that is more individual, not like one of 1,500 other students? What community issue really gets under your skin? What skills or talents do you have that might make a difference in changing that situation? Go after it. The SMBHC continues to welcome the extraordinary efforts of all honors students who serve the community; we eagerly await the outlier, the one who finds his or her own avenue for transforming a community.
- Suppose your Capstone requires an interview in another part of the world or some minor equipment your research supervisor cannot supply. Ask us for research funds. We have funds to support you as you pursue your Capstone work.
- Do you find that your work should be shared with others? We have conference funds to help pay for you to present your work at conferences in your field.
These SMBHC resources are available to honors students at earlier stages of their studies, but they characterize the individuality and flexibility we believe must mark your Capstone years, and they are meant to support the courage, integrity and creativity that Citizen Scholars will call on as they shape themselves, their fields, and their world.