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

The Bard Early College Network includes ten schools that, through dual-enrollment courses taught by faculty with terminal degrees, allow students to graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree simultaneously, tuition free. In their third and fourth years on a Bard Early College campus, students enroll in the Bard Seminar Sequence, a four-semester sequence of interdisciplinary courses that emphasize close reading, critical inquiry, and scholarly writing. During their fourth and final semester of Seminar, students complete a capstone project that culminates in a ten-page research-based essay and presentation. The Seminar capstone project serves two primary functions: it highlights and reinforces the academic skills that students have developed over several years, and it prepares them for the increasingly independent work that will be asked of them as they pursue bachelor’s degrees and careers. Students across the Bard Early College Network come from a multitude of educational backgrounds and bring a wide variety of interests and ambitions to the Seminar classroom.

While the BHSEC campuses are unique in that they employ a traditional college faculty in a public high school setting, the writing-as-a-process elements of the capstone research project would look familiar to instructors of first-year writing at any college or university. The thorniest capstone-related issues faced at the BHSECs, which include an academically diverse student body and the coordination of instructors from multiple departments located in multiple cities, makes this chapter especially relevant to institutions facing similar challenges.

Discussion Questions

  • In addition to producing a research paper, discuss the benefits gained by students participating in the capstone?
  • Examine the success of the network approach that was applied to the improvements made to the capstone experience. How might this approach be adapted for your institutional context?
  • In your institution’s evaluation of the capstone experience, what has been the role of qualitative data?
  • Does your institution have a way to systematically consider or assess the experiences students bring to their college career?
  • How does your institution engage alumni about their perceptions of the purpose and value of the capstone experience?