In one of our most recent Campus Spotlight blog posts, we focused on New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. We wanted to take this opportunity to highlight an increasingly common graduation activity known as the capstone project—a final academic project that some institutions like Wagner can require in place of a traditional college thesis. As an NYU Wagner alumnus from Mexico, Alejandro Ortiz shares his capstone experience with WES Student Advisor readers.
For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, a capstone project is instituted by many U.S. universities as a means of culminating an academic program. Unlike a traditional college thesis, a capstone project provides students with hands-on experience and challenges them in a variety of ways—from project management and teamwork to problem solving, data cleaning, and analysis.
My capstone experience was truly satisfying yet challenging. First, students are set up in teams, and as we all know, team composition can be stressful in itself. A capstone is often a yearlong experience (lasting two semesters), so having a great team is fundamental to producing a great outcome and enjoying the experience.
A capstone is truly different from any other experience because you have two semesters to produce high-quality outputs for a client. A capstone project brings together institutions that require specific products and students who are eager to prove their knowledge and gain professional experience.
Fortunately, I was lucky enough to end up with an amazing team of peers. Traditionally at Wagner, capstone teams consist of five members, but my group had only three. This is because, at the time, my teammates and I were the only ones interested in working on an applied project, which focuses on research instead of a particular client’s need. Out of nearly 100 capstones, ours was one of only five applied projects.
With capstone projects, once you are placed on a team and have decided which project to take on, you are ready to start. (It’s important to remember that project selection is based on a list of previously selected projects according to your specialization and client demand). Our research focused on working with big databases in order to evaluate the outcome of a New York City policy on immigrant high schools.
Traditionally, most projects begin with meeting the client to layout needs, timeline, and expected outputs. In our case, the project began with identifying the scope of the research and the sources where we could find information.
A capstone workload normally falls within the following timeline: The first semester involves getting all of the information, literature, and sources ready for analysis, while the second semester involves running the analysis, testing the outcomes, and getting ready for the poster fair.
No capstone project is complete without presenting it to your colleagues (and your client, of course) through a fun and exciting event called a capstone fair. The fair is traditionally the last academic event before graduation. It’s where you get to see everybody’s efforts and results. I remember mine with great joy because it was the only stage of the capstone project where I got to kick back, relax and enjoy the last days of school.