Book cover of Cultivating Capstones: Designing High-Quality Culminating Experiences for Student Learning, edited by Caroline J. Ketcham, Anthony G. Weaver, and Jessie L. Moore

This chapter foregrounds a distinguishing feature embedded in the capstones designed at a diverse mix of colleges and universities: namely, a civic dimension. There is a great potential in capstones that are intentionally designed to foster democratic learning, civic agency, and public problem solving. The authors report results from a multi-year project demonstrating how various disciplines can share specific design features, including scaffolding learning experiences, that culminate in a civic capstone.

Two case studies—a Global Studies Capstone at Providence College and a Communication and Media Capstone at Willamette University—and models from public universities offer lessons for cultivating capstones and provide examples of “what works” to engage students in civic capstones. Through this multi-institutional perspective, the authors show how capstones in a variety of disciplines and institutions can develop civic competencies through collaborative learning, reflective practice, and publicly engaged research. They also outline the importance of engaging, deliberative pedagogy for educating future leaders in communities share and concrete assignments developed over years of practice.

Based on this scan and intensive experience with capstones, the authors introduce the concept of “civic professionalism,” which is a framework for incorporating civic engagement into capstones across various disciplines and essential for connecting capstone courses to broader institutional transformation. Capstone courses are ideal bridges between students, alumni, and community partners, and re-thinking professional identity is an important component of these courses. Ultimately, the core consequence of the design of civic capstones is their power to hone students’ skills in the habits of democratic engagement across differences, making questions of diversity, equity, and agency central. This power extends the impact of disciplinary capstones, increasing student learning in the discipline, while also giving students first-hand experience transforming knowledge into action to contribute to a more just and equitable society.

Discussion Questions

  • The authors presented a challenge for those that develop and teach a disciplinary capstone course for, “more expansive democratic reinvention and intellectual investment.”
    • Do you agree with the call for reinvention and investment?
    • Has your institution’s capstone infused learning outcomes that build civic responsibility and/or critical thinking? If so, discuss specific examples; if not, what would you recommend to improve this gap in your capstone course?
  • Review the six elements necessary for redesigning the departmental major to produce students that are prepared to be civic professionals with a strong sense of social responsibility. Discuss the challenges associated with the elements listed.
  • Overall, do you believe a capstone experience can meet the demands of the discipline and create civic professionals capable of solving societal crises?