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25 March 2015

Southerns 2015: Facilitating Faculty Research with the Senior Capstone Sequence

I'll be at the annual meeting of the Southern Sociological Society this week, presenting Saturday morning (11:00 AM in the Bienville room). Here is the abstract followed by two major figures from the presentation:
Facilitating Faculty Research with the Senior Capstone Sequence
Bradley Koch, Georgia College
Stephanie McClure, Georgia College
Sandra Godwin, Georgia College
Previous research has examined the use of the Senior Capstone in the sociology curriculum. This paper reports on the specifics of a Senior Capstone sequence developed by the sociology program at a small(er) public liberal arts institution in the Southeast, giving particular attention to the role of the Capstone Course as a vehicle to facilitate faculty research projects. The Capstone Course is the default experience for students in their penultimate semester of study. (The other possible experiences are an Internship, Independent Study, Independent Research, and Independent Research on Study Abroad.) In previous semesters, many students found themselves adrift before the Senior Seminar for several reasons. Some either did not want an internship or at least did not have an obvious trajectory into a specific internship location. Some could not afford or were otherwise not interested in studying abroad. Many students requested Independent Research or Independent Study simply because they lacked better options and often despite the fact that they did not have the internal motivation or self-discipline to be successful in such endeavors. It is this gap that the Capstone Course was designed to fill. Students enrolled in the Capstone Course engage in a semester-long research project that is, to varying degree, designed and directed by the professor, with the course rotating regularly among the sociology faculty. Though individual faculty are given broad leeway in course design, the students generally gather data, review the literature in the topic area, write the front end of an individualized research paper, and begin the analysis to be completed in the Senior Seminar offered in the final semester. There are three aims of the Capstone Course. First, the students get hands-on experience doing research with a faculty member. Second, the students walk away from the course with the bones of a research project that they will refine the following semester in the Senior Seminar course. Finally, the faculty member benefits from the labor of the students on a research project that, working at a teaching-oriented liberal arts college, s/he otherwise would not likely be able to pursue because of larger teaching loads, greater service expectations, the lack of the sabbatical as an option, and small funding infrastructure among other considerations. In this way, the Capstone Course is a mutually beneficial innovation that takes advantage of institutional constraints in service to both students and faculty. Moreover, we note increased positive outcomes in other areas, including student presentations at research conferences and student-driven assessment of program outcomes. Overall, the Senior Capstone sequence and the Capstone Course have served as a useful innovation for our faculty and students.

Hope to see you there!

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