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McDaniel’s educational experience culminates in capstone project

May 11, 2010

While McDaniel seniors tailor their capstone projects to their specific fields and interests, this culminating educational experience invariably serves as a bridge to career and graduate or professional school.

“The Senior Capstone is the crowning feature of the McDaniel Plan,” says Tom Falkner, provost and dean of the faculty.

Each year in the McDaniel Plan, the college’s new curriculum, is defined by a distinctive academic experience. Freshmen participate in first-year seminars. Sophomores explore interdisciplinary studies. Juniors learn the techniques of writing in their fields.

Seniors complete capstone projects – experiences that wrap up their programs of study while serving as links from college to the future.

“In each department, the senior capstone has its own special flavor,” Falkner says. “It may be an extended hands-on research project, a senior thesis, a field-work experience, a performance or exhibit, or a seminar that focuses on the application of what one has learned over four years.”

Environmental Policy and Science major Sarah Hanlon, who plans to join the Coast Guard after graduation, gained more confidence while researching her capstone project, “Interstate Nutrient Trading Program: Save the Chesapeake Bay.” Knowing what to say when contacting total strangers grew easier as she worked her way through government agencies in search of information.

For music majors, Josh Vyskocil and Sabrina Clarke among them, the capstone involves an original composition. Vyskocil’s new work based on many intertwining rhythmic patterns debuted at a recent performance by the college’s Madrigals, and Clarke’s “Fair are the Flowers” was featured at a choral concert.

Sociology major Amber Lassen '10 said doing a capstone project helped her build on basic research skills that she had developed by writing papers for classes. The capstone project required her to broaden her research capabilities, she said. For instance, she had to conduct a campus-wide survey and interview students as part of her research.

Now, she is equipped with research knowledge that she can apply to the workplace. She said that through the capstone experience she learned so much about the research process that she already is using those enhanced skills as a crime scene technician intern with the Maryland State Police. After going to a crime scene or observing an autopsy to collect data, Lassen helps to document pertinent information.

"The papers that I have to write for MSP have to be so detailed," she said. "Having the capstone project helped prepare me for that."

Conducting research helped Eric Lemmon – who graduates this month with majors in Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry and Physics – choose a direction in graduate school. At first Lemmon was set on just medical school, but after his experiences in research, he’s decided to enter the Ph.D.-M.D. program at Stony Brook University on Long Island.

For most, the learning experience extends well beyond the research. Students present their capstones in a variety of ways, including poster sessions, seminars, exhibits, concerts and theatre productions.

“They learn how scientists present their research,” says Louise Paquin, professor of Biology, explaining the reasoning behind the department’s annual poster session during which students stand with their posters and answer questions about their projects.

Through capstone projects, Falkner says, students often “find their own 'voice' within their chosen field and begin to express themselves not just as students but as practitioners and budding professionals.”