Capstones: Synthesizing the MAS College Experience


by Bryce Lungren
Editor's Note: Both the reporter for this story and the editor are involved with capstone projects this year.

With graduation on the horizon, Mount Angel Seminary's fourth-year collegians are working hard to put the final touches on the Capstone projects.  For almost year now, MAS college students have been busy pondering, researching, and writing on a topic of their choice that is designed to be the crowning jewel in their college career.

According to the MAS academic catalog, the Capstone project "represents the culmination of the student's academic undergraduate experience at Mount Angel Seminary."  This project affords the student the opportunity to focus intensively on one major topic.  While doing so, the Capstone is intended to synthesize elements of different disciplines he has studied throughout his college experience.

As a required four-credit course in the Bachelor of Arts program at MAS, the catalog further states that the Capstone project consists of two major components, a twenty-page research paper and an oral presentation.  The thesis draws primarily from one of the three undergraduate majors offered at MAS: Philosophy, Philosophy/Religious Studies, and Philosophy/Literature.

In an email interview, Dr. Jeffery Nicholas, the director of the Capstone Program, said that this project is similar to a typical college's senior thesis project but is unique in that it is interdisciplinary.  This is also one of the strengths of the MAS Capstone Program, said Nicholas.  He went on to state that "originally, universities focused on interdisciplinary studies -- and Thomas' Summa is a prime example of such."

One of the main purposes of the Capstone project is to prepare students for graduate level studies.  "First and foremost," stated Dr. Nicholas, "it reinforces the tools and knowledge that students have learned in their undergraduate program.  Second, it prepares them to write longer papers, including an MA level research paper.  Third, and finally, students are asked to reflect on how their specific research topic prepares them for pastoral ministry."

There are over twenty MAS collegians working on their Capstone projects this year.  Seminarian David Soares has recently completed both the written requirement as well as the oral presentation for his project.  Through the research of his topic, which he entitled "Uniting the Free Will of a Human Being with the Will of God Through Mary," Soares said that he has "come to a greater understanding of how philosophy is like the seedbed for theological studies."

Sister Hilda Kleiman, OSB, an Assistant Professor of English Communications at MAS, recently edited each student's written draft for correct English grammar and to ensure it meets proper MLA (Modern Language Association) standards.  Sister Hilda will be teaching the Capstone seminar class next fall to fourth-year collegians.  "I look forward," she said in an email interview, "to incorporating what I am learning from reading this year's capstones into the seminar."

As seminarians and future priests, MAS students will be constantly asked to take complicated subjects and condense them into presentable language.  Sister Hilda believes that the oral format of the Capstone project allows students the opportunity to practice such skills.  In about a twenty-five minute persuasive presentation, students are asked to convey the main points of their topic.  Sister Hilda said that in this dimension of the Capstone "students also demonstrate whether they can think on their feet during the question-and-answer period at the end of the presentation."

The Capstone is not just a long research project.  It is the crown molding which holds the collegian's entire experiential edifice together.  Sister Hilda believes that "there is a value of perseverance inherent in this project."

If the student sticks with the process," she concluded, "he can be rightly proud when he reaches the end."