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Capstone rumors dispelled

Starting this year, all Concordia students graduating in 2011 and beyond will need to begin thinking about what they need to do for their senior capstone. The capstones will be the final aspect of the four-part core curriculum that is part of all students’ academic careers. Yet many students do not know what they entail.

Greg Muilenburg, dean of the core curriculum, said that this aspect of the core is something that has not been addressed very much before this year because the new curriculum was only introduced in 2007. As a result, no seniors have yet had to complete a capstone under the new system, which means some current students don’t know how they’re supposed to work the capstone into their academic plans.

“Students are frustrated because they want to plan two, sometimes three years ahead,” Muilenburg said.

This frustration, it seems, stems from a lack of clarity about exactly what the capstones are supposed to be. Because they were still in the process of being defined when the new curriculum was introduced two years ago, the capstone concept did not fully solidify until this year.

Sophomore Marta Stolen said that the capstone simply sounded like a major undertaking that seniors are expected to carry out before they graduate.

“When I heard about it, it just seemed like a… big project,” Stolen said. “It would be nice to know what to expect.”

Muilenburg said that the capstones are designed to form a “bookend,” along with the inquiry seminars taken freshman year, to the liberal arts education. Students will have the ability to choose between two types of capstone courses: departmental capstones that are specially designed to meet core requirements, and capstone projects designed not to fit specifically into any one discipline.

Jeff Meyer, chair of the Core Committee, said that the capstone should be able to work with both a student’s major and the core education that they have received throughout college.

“There’s a sense that the core and major…can enrich each other,” Meyer said.

According to Meyer, capstones have to fulfill five requirements: they must address an issue of global significance, contain an experience that, as Meyer said, “moves from theory to practice,” offer an opportunity to reflect on liberal learning, be writing intensive, and be completed during senior year.

“It’s a re-emphasis of the goals that have hopefully been a part of all core classes,” Meyer said.

Muilenburg believes that it is important to end the college experience with a capstone because it will allow students to explore what a liberal arts education has meant for them and how to use it in the world after college. He believes that students with a liberal arts education, by the time they reach their capstone, will have “learned to love to learn.”

“It’s a maturation process,” he said.

Unlike traditional “general education” models that many colleges employ, the core is designed to carry out over all four years, with the capstone literally “capping” the experience. According to Muilenburg, this four-year model was the result of studying academic development. Muilenburg believes that students need time to build what he called “a storehouse of experiences” rather than front-loading the “gen-ed” requirements at the beginning of college.

Junior Faith Fretham thinks this is a feasible goal, but believes that it is impossible to ever incorporate all disciplines into any kind of education.

“I think it’s realistic to a certain extent,” Fretham said. “Obviously you can’t cover every single area. I can’t learn everything.”

Meyer anticipates that it will not be difficult for students to work a capstone into their academic plan because it does not impose any additional curricular requirement.

Many majors already have “capstone” courses built into them, which students can tailor to also meet the core capstone criteria. Students can also modify a semester abroad experience or a course from their major or the core to act as their capstone.

“We’re well aware that there will be students in difficult situations, and we’re going to work with them,” Meyer said.

Even so, both Meyer and Muilenburg said they expect that challenges will no doubt present themselves this first year while the capstone curriculum is being implemented, and that a few kinks that will need to be worked out in the process.

“Two years from now, we’ll have a pretty good idea of how it works,” Meyer said.

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