Capstone connects the local and the world

University Studies, the general education program at Portland State, requires that students choose a senior capstone to fulfill the requirement. The Reporting Live capstone is a unique international program that virtually bridges Oregon middle schoolers to college juniors and seniors studying abroad, connecting middle school curriculum to PSU students’ academic global experience.

The program was started in fall 2011 by Katherine Kangas, who is the capstone instructor as well. Typically, the classes are pulled from Portland Public Schools, and Kangas will reach out to to the teachers at PPS.

According to the website, the program is “grounded in peace journalism and intercultural competence theory.” Students update a blog weekly for their middle school students back in Portland. These blog posts are then tied into the middle school classroom curriculum, incorporating themes that are studied in class.

“There is a lot of flexibility, individuality and creativity when the student is creating her blog,” said Alyse Collins, Education Abroad advisor at PSU. “At the same time, students will probably reach out to the Portland public classroom teacher, and find out what the curriculum is like this year or what [the teacher] wants to see on the blog. Maybe [the teachers] want to work on a certain kind of theme: world history, environment or whatever they may be focusing on in their own curriculum. When they’re doing those blog postings, they’re trying to keep that in mind.”

Capstone students engage with their middle school partners in an ongoing discussion about one another’s experiences. Some Reporting Live students skype their middle schoolers back home, where they can pose questions about the country.

Blog posts include journals, interviews and videos. Some Reporting Live students interview other middle schoolers from the country they are abroad in, and Portland middle schoolers are able to ask questions and learn about children their age that are part of an entirely different culture.

“Students have told me that when they are doing the Reporting Live capstone blogs, it has been very helpful to them because it pushes them to think more creatively,” Collins said. “Also it pushes them to think about, ‘What do these kids back home want to learn about this?’ Maybe they have culture shock and want to stay home for the weekend; however, this motivates them to go outside and be like, ‘I have to go to that festival because the kids are going to love that.’”

About 15 to 16 students choose the capstone per term, which is offered in the fall and spring. This capstone is available to most students with 90 credits or more, except honors, business and engineering majors. Students usually take the six capstone credits on top of their academic or internship credits they are earning abroad. Students are enrolled in a D2L course online and are able to communicate with each other and share their blogs and experiences as well.

“These kids are learning about geography, current events, history, politics, and they’re getting the opportunity to think about things in a different way,” Collins said. “They have a college student who is mentoring them.”

The Vanguard interviewed Nora Fatland, a Reporting Live capstone student who was recently featured in the Portland Tribune, to hear about her study abroad experience in Chile.

Vanguard: Tell me a little about yourself (your major, year, hometown and so on).

Nora Fatland: Right now I’m a junior in the world language department studying Spanish. I should be wrapping up my degree at the end of the upcoming school year. I’m from Boise, Idaho, and my parents are from South Dakota and Chicago and met in Arizona, so I’ve got wanderlust in my blood and have done quite a bit of travel in the U.S. and some in Latin America as well. I’m married and my husband is also a bit of a traveler, so we’re a good match.

VG: What made you choose the Reporting Live capstone over the other capstones? What about this capstone stands out?

NF: I chose this capstone specifically because of the opportunity to work with students in the Portland area and their ability to enhance my experience abroad. What I mean by this is that by writing my entries and reading/answering questions I can process some of these experiences in a different way and get a different perspective. Plus, I will always have the blog to look back at. I can’t remember how I stumbled across this capstone but as soon as I read the description I knew it would be a perfect fit.

VG:What has been your most memorable experience so far?

NF: Most memorable experiences have been attending student protests and getting to see the power of student mobilization. Another good one is discovering the underground techno scene here in Valpo and making friends with all the people in the scene. It’s still a very new music scene here so there are only several clubs that hold these shows and a lot of the time you see the same people at these shows and bond over the music. It’s interesting because Chileans are really willing to bridge the language gap and I’ve made some great friends from this.

VG: Why do you recommend studying abroad to other PSU students?

NF: Studying abroad is incredibly important even if you’re not a language student. Getting a different perspective on the world is an important part of what it means to be human. In the capstone, our professor, Kate Kangas, made us really reflect on things that we found “weird” about our country and why it made us feel like that. When you’re forced to examine culture and customs, both your home country and your host country, you’re allowing yourself to understand people’s differences a little better and that none of it is really that weird at all. The other thing is I believe learning another language is an incredibly important skill to have and immersion is proven to work.

VG: What country would you like to go next and why?

NF: I definitely want to explore more of South America, maybe Peru or Bolivia. I’ve heard good things from fellow travelers about both places. One friend studied in Peru and loved it, and I would love to see what she saw. Another traveler friend gushes about Bolivian food. I’ll definitely be back to Chile again too. I’ve really fallen in love with this country.

For the steps on how to apply for the program, visit