Capstones: not as bad as they seem

When I first arrived at Portland State, I was a bit taken aback by the University Studies requirements. As a transfer student, I wasn’t required to subject myself to the freshman and sophomore inquiry courses, but I did have to take the upper-division cluster classes and the capstone.

I had no idea what to expect from my capstone. As one acquaintance put it, “It’s like homeroom all over again!” Another said, “Four years of remedial classes taken from the same playbook.” Clearly, I knew both were using some poetic license, and I took both comments with a very large grain of salt. However, as I progressed through my upper-division cluster (which had absolutely no similarity to homeroom nor remedial courses), I began to plan for my capstone.

As someone who has spent his life trying to help other people, finding a capstone that fit my personal goal of not being a selfish jerk was at the top of my list. Similarly, finding a capstone that did not place me into the indentured servitude of local organizations was also paramount. (Seriously: Several capstones are very open that they want students to be free labor for their partner organization. Yeah, I don’t think so.)

However, I also began to hear, again, the grumblings of students, both current and former, about the requirements capstone courses place on those taking them. The fact that capstones are six credits of 400-level work is in itself daunting for many. The time commitments for many capstones (or maybe all) are significant: several hours of seminar per week, followed by a day in the field. Written assignments, projects…it all adds up. As I chose my capstone and readied myself, I was truly worried I was getting myself deeply over my head.

But now that I’m actually taking my capstone, it’s…not a big deal. Admittedly, the time commitment takes a bit of getting used to. I spend one day a week in the field, working with K–12 students to help them learn forest and wetland ecology. It’s physically exhausting and takes a full day to complete—quite literally 7 a.m. until nearly dark. However, the work itself is fairly easy. There’s a bit of reflective journaling involved, and each week there’s a seminar lecture to discuss progress completed and progress yet to be made. But really, it’s no more difficult than any other class I’ve taken, and certainly not as difficult as I had dreaded. Many have said it’s not as hard as a six-credit class should be, but I’ll reserve that judgement until the end of the term.

So capstones are a good thing; I don’t think there is any doubt in my mind. I know some dread them, some find them boring and others love them. I’m not sure if love is the adjective I would use, but it’s certainly been valuable so far. The instructor is great, and my fellow students are amazing, dedicated people. I’m certainly grateful to be given this opportunity, and I hope anyone who has to take a capstone keeps an open mind and approaches them not as a chore but as a wonderful opportunity to better their city, their community and those that benefit from both.