Capstone projects

Every major in the division of Sciences and Mathematics requires students to complete a capstone project to graduate. For these, you will work with a faculty advisor over multiple quarters to conduct independent research on a topic of interest, and they culminate in the senior seminar or capstone experience class. This page gives you some expectations and tips to have a successful capstone experience.

What is a capstone and why do we require one?

An authentic and independent undergraduate research experience such as a capstone project is a “High Impact Practice” that supports success for students from diverse backgrounds and experiences. The capstone can take many forms. It may be an internship, independent study or directed reading, collaborative research experience (e.g., TMATH 495) or some other form of service learning or experience. For your capstone project you will write a research paper and give a public presentation of your research and experience. The capstone project gives you a tangible product that you can use to support applications to graduate school or for employment. Particularly, for a capstone in Sciences and Mathematics, we expect:

Individual students or peer-groups must engage, independently or as self-directed collaborators, in the development, planning, or analysis of a project integrating knowledge, skills and ethical practices developed in their major’s curriculum.

SAM Faculty, Autumn 2019

What are options for the capstone project and which should I choose?

You may fulfill your capstone project by completing independent research or directed reading with a faculty advisor, by participating in an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates), or by doing an internship. If your goal is to go to graduate school, then independent research would be beneficial. If your goal is to enter the job market after graduating, then the essential experience you gain from an internship would be an invaluable addition to your resume. Talk to your faculty advisor about which makes more sense for you. I describe more about research projects for the remainder of the page.

What to expect while completing your capstone research project.

All capstone research projects require multiple quarters of effort in collaboration with your capstone advisor and any peers also on the project PRIOR TO enrollment in the Environmental Science Senior Seminar (TESC 410) or Mathematics Capstone (TMATH 450). Students who work with me on their capstones will spend at least 1-2 quarters of enrollment in an Independent Study, Directed Reading, or Collaborative Mathematics Research Experience. The details of the independent study will vary from project to project, but they should be started no later than the summer before you plan on taking your senior seminar/capstone course. This requires some forethought and planning that begins in your Junior year!

How do you choose a topic for your capstone?

It helps to keep your capstone requirement in the back of your mind as you complete your major coursework. Pay attention to the topics and ideas that you find energizing and that really capture your interest and the faculty who are experts in those topics. Make sure to have conversations with your faculty advisor(s) as you develop a topic and plan for your capstone project. Investigate different faculty and their areas of research to identify those who align with your own. Very often faculty will have opportunities for capstone projects within their own research programs. Faculty can also accommodate new topics that fit their broad research interests. Although my main research area is in wildfire ecology and forest management, I have supervised capstones that involve statistical method and modeling generally. See a list of capstone projects projects I have supervised here. Have a look at my research page for ongoing research projects that can be a topic for your capstone.