By Andy Devine, Contributing Writer
The political science students working towards the completion of their capstone projects presented Tuesday, December 6th to presiding faculty members and advisors. In previous years, students often completed their project within an existing political science course rather than taking a separate capstone class. When a capstone course was offered and then removed last spring due to low pre-registration numbers, poli-sci seniors advocated for it’s return.
In the case of political science students, the capstone is a research-oriented project that can be related to anything in the field of political science. The process that students follow includes creating a topic statement, literature review, methodology, proposal and final project as described by instructor of the course, political science professor Linda Beck.
One poli-sci student working on his capstone project, Rico Gortmans, stated, “When you end your undergraduate career, you want to be able to have a research paper that puts everything you learned in those four years together that you could defend and use for future work.”
Most academic programs at UMF require some form of cumulative project towards the end of a student’s undergraduate career; from education’s student teaching requirement, to psychology’s independent research project, to the political science capstone. In most cases, there is a course to accompany students working on this final project; however, for some political science students, this is not always the case.
Poli-Sci students working towards their capstone project this fall nearly did not have a course devoted to the project; as has happened in the past with the political science program.
Chair of the Social Science Division, professor Chris O’Brien reported on the events of this past spring. “A number of things came all together at the same time. The way that political science had done this in the past was there was no separate capstone because the number [of students taking the class] was always too low so you would just take another class and do a capstone within it.” This past spring, only two students put the political science capstone on their wishlist so the university could not offer the course. In hearing this, a number of eligible poli-sci students approached the faculty and requested the class be offered. As O’Brien put it, “The class disappeared, momentarily, and then the firestorm erupted and it came back.”
Beck added to the understanding of not offering the course by detailing the time requirements of the instructor to meet with students, read and edit material, as well as class and prep time; all outside of work for other classes.
Some poli-sci students are not as lucky as the ones this year. Just last year, a group not much smaller than this year’s group, did the capstone project on their own. Nick Bucci, of the Class of 2016, wrote in an email interview, “I struggled writing my senior capstone.” Bucci continued, “I got a B- or so on my capstone, but I could have done much better if I felt my support system was stronger. Sure, the professors tell you to see them, but I sometimes thought I was bothering them with my questions.”
Gortmans stated, “I think that the class is good; getting the one-on-one with Linda is awesome. I don’t think I could have done it by myself. I wish it could be similar to the history major where there’s a research methods one semester and capstone the next semester, I feel like we are pounding a lot into one semester. Not saying it’s not doable, but it’s a lot.”
To clarify, even without the course, the students are never quite, “on their own,” but simply have a faculty “sponsor” to be their specified mentor during the process.
Projects this year range from examining the expansion of the executive branch of government, to comparing conservatism on the Supreme Court during the Rehnquist and Roberts’ eras.
Following the past year’s events regarding the Capstone course, O’Brien concluded, “What will be in place from now forward is there will be a political science capstone; it will be offered as stand-alone class in as much as we can do that. If for some reason, the good news of a sabbatical, or a leave for a professor to do research or something, students will still be able to take a capstone course in the context of taking another course and it counting as an equivalent.” This comes as good news to the Social Science division, as O’Brien said, “this (capstone courses) is what education should be: smart people having smart conversations.”
It may also come as welcome news to up-and-coming poli-sci students who like Gortmans would prefer to participate in a course like this year’s capstone seniors.