IAC needs more direction in capstones

Senior Capstone is a class dreaded and feared by many. For some majors, it’s a class that spans over two semesters; for others it may be more or less. Either way, it is a class that aims to cover your mastery of your major. This demonstration of understanding can be accomplished in multiple ways, and each college within the Institute has their own way of achieving this objective.

The Ivan Allen College (IAC) of Liberal Arts includes capstone courses, but these courses vary greatly between each major in design. I imagine some similar variation exists among engineering majors, but I think the IAC lacks the senior design coursework and depth found in many engineering capstones.

What I respect about the engineering capstone, more commonly known as Senior Design, is that from the beginning of the course, students are put into groups from the get go and immediately begin their project.

From my understanding, students in these classes have a topic assigned or chosen and an overarching goal to reach for. The topic is often a problem observed or defined in a system. This problem becomes the subject of the semester as it is identified, analyzed and appropriately evaluated. Solutions are drawn up and a final presentation is put together.

In many majors, the goal is to develop a working relationship with a client and develop a project that can be implemented into their organization. Engineering students have the opportunity to work in a real-world situation with the support of the Institute and other fellow students.

As a liberal arts major, I want to be able to create that connection with the real world while still being a student and somewhat supervised. Senior Design groups are conducting research that could potentially be used in the real world while still having an advisor and maybe a few TAs to critique the work. I want this opportunity in all majors in the IAC.

The capstone courses in the IAC need to be more standardized. After reading the course descriptions of many capstone courses in the IAC, the objectives lack depth and are open ended. While this might be intentional, I would much rather the objective be to imitate the depth in the objectives for engineering capstones. I want to have that opportunity to create a working relationship with a client and provide a solution to a real-world issue.

The School of Public Policy has been able to create a capstone course like this, with an objective similar to an engineering capstone’s objective. Their capstone course lays out the rules and objectives and then provide a listing of sponsors who have agreed to participate in the project with the students. Similarly, the PUBP students in the capstone course conduct a professional investigation of a policy issue, identify possible methodologies and solutions to resolve the issue, and, lastly, present their findings in a report.

Something that attracts many employers to Tech is that we are trained to become problem solvers. This training can be found in any major at Tech. If an objective of Senior Design in an engineering course is to problem solve, why can’t problem solving be further intertwined in the senior capstone courses of the IAC?

Maybe this means I need to change my major, but I see some of these ideas fitting very well into the overall Tech curriculum. Tech is unique in that it ties all of its majors somehow with technology. HTS has a course that covers Culture and Technology; one of INTA’s required courses is called Science, Technology and International Affairs. You can make the argument that Tech’s liberal arts school is unlike many others because of its close ties to technology and engineering, so why not pull those two closer together?

By implementing or altering the capstone coursework within the IAC, the capstone course will be a stronger departing class for IAC graduates. IAC students will be able to construct and develop real world issues and relations with clients. Often, IAC students can be a little lost because of the broad scope that a liberal arts education covers. If a class or classes were to allow IAC students to connect with clients who seek the help of liberal arts students, a stronger foundation will be built for IAC students entering the real-world.

IAC students will realize their potential careers paths set before them and overall, learn how to problem solve in the most efficient way. A Senior Design capstone course within the IAC will only make a student stronger and more prepared for life after graduation.