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 tells the story of how a capstone course for fourth-year students was adopted and adapted into four courses across three institutions and various disciplines, with plans now to bring it to a fourth university. Each course leader highlights adaptations made based on discipline and institution, and offers lessons learned about encouraging enrollment, bringing colleagues on board, connecting to the broader community, and making sure each course outlives its initial champions.

Founded on the work of the Senior Year Experience work at National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, the courses varied in their readings and focus but all had as their goals the integration of students’ degree learning and an intentional transition from university to the rest of life. An Action Project and Skills Portfolio are major components of the course and were adapted to fit the discipline of English Literature and expanded as a capstone requirement for the Applied Communication, Leadership, and Culture program. It was further adapted to the University of New Brunswick Saint John context, where faculty highlights aspects of reflection and transitioning, included an ePortfolio, and invited a range of alumni to talk about their learning and employment experiences.

With each iteration, instructors have shifted the readings and focus depending on the discipline but have adhered to the connection between that discipline and the world beyond campus walls. The Skills Portfolio has been adapted to changes in job search expectations, moving from mainly paper to mainly online portfolios. But two basic principles persist: students look back at their degrees by using the tools those degrees have taught them; and they look forward to their post-degree lives with an adaptable portfolio that helps them articulate their skills, knowledge, and attributes.

Discussion Questions

  • Discuss some common issues at the student, faculty, and institutional levels identified across all four institutions.
  • What are the advantages/disadvantages of using the ePortfolio in the capstone experience?
  • The authors discuss the capstone as a place for students to reflect on the skills gained through a liberal arts education. Consider the role of the capstone as both an experience that supports the liberal arts education and prepares students for employment. Is it possible that one capstone experience can meet both needs?