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Master of Arts in Liberal Studies


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Capstone Project

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Capstone Project Guide

This guide provides general advice about completing the Capstone Project. Since, in many instances, the Project will resemble a traditional written thesis, much of the advice relies on information available in the "Guide to Preparation of Theses" published by the Graduate Studies Office and used in several of the other masters programs at USI. At the same time, many Capstone Projects will be sufficiently different than recommendations from the "Guide" may be irrelevant or unadaptable.

Interdisciplinary Project

Unlike many traditional masters' students, MALS students are generalists, not specialists. Studies they undertake may (and should) be sufficiently detailed, but they will often lack the specific technical approach used in most individual academic disciplines. Sometimes students and professors alike complain about the uncertainty this lack of a single set of academic assumptions engenders, and sometimes the belief central to all interdisciplinary study that all knowledge is one (and worth pursuing by the generally well educated and inquisitive amateur) and that all approaches and techniques have something in common is often hard to accept. We even sometimes disagree about who or what constitutes the interdisciplinary component of the MALS program: the student making connections among a variety of subjects and ideas which are all relatively new to him, the teacher trying to speak knowledgeably about subjects that are not a part of his or her own academic specialty, or the program striving for a grand synthesis of parts that go beyond individual students or their teachers. Similarly all these uncertainties, if they are not dealt with beforehand, may create difficulties for the Capstone Project.

As a practical matter, for example, it is often difficult to decide who the audience for the Project is. Projects are evaluated by a committee, but if, say, your committee includes an English professor, a Sociologist, and a Geologist each with his or her own sense of what makes for a good topic, a good method of approach, the right kind of details, the right style of documentation who in fact should you write for? The answer is really no answer. Each project will be a unique blend of what all parties can agree to. Sometimes this blend will require unusual flexibility among all the parties involved. One approach I have often recommended is for students and faculty to think of the audience for the Capstone Project as that illusive "informed citizenry," communicating in the "public domain," upon which (at least in theory) every democracy relies. In any case, highly specialized research employing the specific techniques of a single discipline may be the last thing a Capstone Project seeks to emulate. To simplify matters even further, the faculty have agreed that only two of three committee members must sign in order for a Capstone Project to be accepted.

Individualized Project

Also, Capstone Projects are intended to satisfy the needs of the individuals undertaking them. Once the strings to specific disciplines have been severed, students become free to explore subjects in ways that seem useful to them. As a faculty, we encourage students to explore topics that may be of importance to the community and to address their remarks to the public at large, but in fact many projects will provide extremely personal rewards addressing a subject the student has wanted to explore for reasons that may be imaginative or utilitarian, sometimes both.

With these thoughts in mind, find out how to meet requirements and move the project toward a conclusion.