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From the Editor
“Opportunities to integrate, synthesize, and apply knowledge are essential to ensuring deep, meaningful learning experiences,” writes the National Survey of Student Engagement’s Jillian Kinzie in her article appearing in this issue of Peer Review. “The senior culminating experience provides an opportunity to cap off the undergraduate years and prepare students to take ownership of the diverse strands of their educational journey and transition to the next phase in life.”
By completing a culminating project or capstone—which may take the form of a thesis, creative project, performance work, research project, or combination of these—students in their senior year have the chance to connect academic work from their majors and general education courses and create original scholarship. Capstone projects are one of the educational experiences identified as particularly effective educationally by George D. Kuh in High-Impact Educational Practices (2008). In his 2010 foreword to Five High-Impact Practices, Kuh, from his own experiences, reflects upon why certain undergraduate experiences enhance the learning and personal development of students. He writes that his own project “demanded high-quality work under pressure in real time, in a collegial setting where feedback was plentiful. Equally important, the quality of the project was judged by others (often peers)... and was later evaluated by public opinion.” Most capstones share a number of these qualities.
Recently I had the chance to witness the power of such learning experiences when my son Adam, a May 2013 New York University (NYU) graduate, completed a capstone project. As a drama major who studied at the Tisch School of the Arts’ Stonestreet Studios film and screen acting conservatory, Adam, with a creative partner, decided to create a web series called “Dorm Therapy” as a way to bring together lessons learned from his undergraduate classes with his love of writing. This project challenged him on all levels. With each step bringing the project closer to completion, he was forced to use different skill sets. For example, funding the production—from the large expenses of paying for filming locations and equipment rental to minor costs such as buying the cast a pizza lunch—required a deep dive into budgeting and fundraising. Building buzz for the show meant reviewing and learning new marketing and public relations strategies.
With the advice and guidance of his faculty members, Adam was able to write, direct, and launch the seven-episode series. At the series premiere at the NYU Cantor Film Center last March, as the audience laughed appreciatively, it was gratifying for him to see his vision come to life. “I took all of the skills that I gained from my educational experience and then used and expanded upon them in one project,” he told me as he reflected on his capstone. “It was worth the lack of sleep and weeks of hard work. I created a lasting project that I can share with the world—especially potential employers.” As a result of his capstone, Adam discovered his passion for working on the other side of the camera, so he is now pursuing a career as a comedy screenwriter.
In this issue of Peer Review, authors have shared insights and experiences similar to Adam’s from students on their campuses who were equally affected by their capstone participation. Through participation in these culminating experiences, students have the opportunity to integrate and apply their knowledge and skills as they march out of the campus gates into the world. As AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider wrote in an earlier Peer Review issue, “Integrative and applied learning is a truly twenty-first-century liberal art. This emphasis on integrative and applied learning is helping to build capabilities that we need as a society facing some of the most difficult challenges that we have faced in recent history—fundamentally issues about survival. These critical times will define the future that we will create together and our students’ capacity to integrate will be the key to our success.