Capstone projects are a part of all college careers at NAU during junior or senior year, but many students still do not have a full grasp of what a capstone is. According to the NAU website, a capstone course covers subject material that is at the interface of two or more subdisciplines and is designed to be a culminating experience for undergraduate degree-seeking students. Although words like those may read well on the internet, it still does not illustrate what students go through when completing capstone courses.
Senior Sarah Devenport is studying forestry and was once a nervous underclassman looking up toward her capstone with thoughts of angst and uncertainty. Devenport said she found the closer she came to her capstone course, the better prepared she was for it. She said her final project is made up of different crews within her forestry capstone course, which are determined on separate topics that each student chooses from a predetermined list the instructor gives the students. These crews are assembled at the beginning of the semester and then work together on tasks throughout Coconino National Forest.
“The workload has been tolerable,” Devenport said in an email interview. “My crew is great at time management, so we tend to complete our work on a good timeline.”
According to NAU’s School of Forestry website, Flagstaff is home to six different climate zones, along with being located inside the world’s largest contiguous Ponderosa pine forest. Students’ capstone projects depend on factors such as weather and timing.
Devenport commended her professor for being helpful during what can be a stressful time and explained that finishing strong is crucial for the student and their future.
“The forestry capstone professor also teaches silviculture, so I know her style coming into the course,” Devenport said. “She’s absolutely brilliant, but far from an easy professor. She has high expectations of us, so I was nervous. Mostly, I was excited to use my 3.5 years of forestry education and create a project I can be proud of.”
Devenport said she recommends students get involved, get job experience over summer break and take advantage of having knowing instructors. Students should remember to stay ahead of the workload because it is the pinnacle of a college career, she said.
Although a capstone project in forestry may seem daunting, not all majors require physical teamwork outside of the classroom. Many capstones, like the courses offered in occupational therapy, for example, can be completed over a yearlong window compared to a one semester course. Projects stretched over a longer period of time consist of mentorships, clinical practice skills and research skills per NAU’s website. Occupational therapy capstones are just one variation of many that are integral to achieving any type of degree at NAU.
Another example of capstone expectations is the progression plan for marketing within The W.A. Franke College of Business. According to its website, marketing degrees emphasize the need to understand consumer behavior and the buying process, conduct market research, along with many other concepts to improve business decision-making. Factors like those change the objectives of a capstone because by nature, they are not trying to dissect issues of a physical being or organism, rather an organization or business.
Brooke Bossen, a senior studying philosophy, politics and law said her capstone has not been too taxing on her thus far in the semester. Bossen explained most of the coursework through her college career has been writing-based, and the writing does not magically go away in the pinnacle class of her major.
“My [capstone] class has five papers that we conjoin together at the end to make one large research paper,” Bossen said in an email interview. “My initial impressions of being in this course was that it was going to be a lot of writing papers, and I was correct. One piece of advice that I would give to someone going to take a capstone is get everything done early. Don’t procrastinate because the work will catch up with you and you will regret it!”
Garret Karl, a senior studying environmental science with an emphasis in biology, also said the workload is a lot, but manageable. He said his capstone courses include reviewing plans and efforts on invasive species management in Maricopa County. The workload for his project is divided between 3-4 people, he said.
According to NAU’s School of Earth and Sustainability website, students with an environmental science major can choose between taking on an internship in the field with real-life settings and experience, or enrolling in a semester-long research project course.
“Expect a lot of reviewing of past projects and efforts related to environmental science and studies,” Karl said. “Make sure that you put forth a good amount of effort, even though the work is divided. Your work will reflect how hard you work for your career.”
Different majors draw different conclusions in coursework, especially when it comes down to the capstone course. By definition, according to Colleges of Distinction, a capstone course improves confidence and self-perception, increases the rigor of senior year, hones skills, builds resumes and demonstrates learning and knowledge.
Senior MaryJane Macias, studying environmental and sustainability, said she found that following through on her work and being thorough made all the difference. Everyone in her capstone class has to do individual and group presentations throughout the semester, Macias said. Being in a major that is hands on and experiment-based, she said she needs data that she has been collecting through the last two semesters in order to complete her capstone project, which adds additional stress to an already stressful class.
“My capstone is focused on my research I did last semester, and we also have a group project based on plant species and working in a greenhouse,” Macias said. “The workload is pretty heavy because there are a lot of different tasks we have to complete. I was nervous about [the capstone course] and it definitely met my expectations, as there are many responsibilities that come along with it. I would recommend figuring out exactly what internship or research opportunity you want to do early on and have a plan for that. Be confident in your abilities, but also be prepared for the workload.”
It can go without saying, but capstones can be difficult. They stand as the last test between the college journey and a diploma, however long and enjoyable the ride may have been at NAU.